Panthers Rumors: Sam Darnold Has 'Renewed Confidence'; Could Take Cam Newton's Spot

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2021

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold throws an interception against the New England Patriots during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

The Carolina Panthers will start Cam Newton for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but his grip on the starting job is not tight.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Sam Darnold would play this week, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Darnold's amount of playing time will be determined by his performance. Darnold could wind up taking a majority of the snaps with hopes he will take over as the starter for the final two weeks of the season. 

Newton has started the Panthers' last four games, all losses, and has looked like a shell of his former MVP self—particularly as a passer. He's thrown for 623 yards and four touchdowns against four interceptions, completing just 54.9 percent of his passes and averaging a career-low 5.5 yards per attempt.

While Newton clearly is no longer an NFL starting quarterback, there's no evidence to suggest Darnold is any better. He got the Panthers off to a 3-0 start with surprisingly solid play but completely fell apart over his next six starts before suffering a scapula fracture on his throwing shoulder. He's totaled 1,986 yards and seven touchdowns against 11 interceptions, putting up a higher interception rate than Newton with a far lower touchdown rate.

The Panthers traded a 2021 sixth-round pick and 2022 second- and fourth-round picks for Darnold and then shockingly guaranteed his $18.9 million fifth-year option for next season, so they're stuck with him on their roster. Giving him a chance over these final three games may be the team simply seeing whether it can salvage something out of a bad decision.