Panthers Rumors: CAR Has 'High Grade' on Justin Fields Despite Sam Darnold Trade

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2021

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields passes against Alabama during the first half of an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Carolina Panthers seemingly solved their quarterback problems with the acquisition of Sam Darnold this offseason, but the team could still have interest in Justin Fields if he falls to No. 8.

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN discussed the team's draft plans Sunday on SportsCenter:

"Speaking of [Justin Fields], I'm told they have a high grade on Fields. And if he's there at No. 8 overall, they could at least think twice about it, which is a little crazy because they just traded for Sam Darnold. But I'm told they like the idea of having two high-pedigree quarterbacks on cheap rookie contracts. The thing is, other teams are not necessarily buying that. They think the Panthers are just trying to leverage a trade back. They also like Oregon's Penei Sewell. If the left tackle is there, it could be an option for them as a trade or a straight-up pick."

Carolina gave up three draft picks in a trade for Darnold, sending a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick and 2022 fourth-round pick to the New York Jets. The team also still has Teddy Bridgewater under contract after he started 15 games for the team last season.

Even with these options, the Panthers could give a hard look to Fields, who is considered the No. 2 overall player in the class by Bleacher Report's Scouting Department.

It makes sense for the Panthers to keep their options open considering the production from the top two quarterbacks on the roster.

Bridgewater completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,733 passing yards last season, also contributing with his legs, but he still only threw 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The team went 4-11 with him as a starter, while the offense finished just 24th in points scored despite plenty of talent at the skill positions between Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.

Darnold was even worse last season with the Jets, finishing dead last among qualified players with a 72.7 quarterback rating. While the Panthers are hoping he can turn things around in a new uniform, there is still no guarantee of success.

The 2018 No. 3 overall pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the team is planning to wait until after the draft to decide on his fifth-year option for 2022, per NFL Media's Kevin Patra.

If they draft Fields, they can give Darnold one season to prove himself before letting him leave in free agency if he doesn't reach expectations. It will also be easier to move on from Bridgewater next offseason, saving $21 million in a release while leaving just $5 million in dead money, per Spotrac.

The Panthers would then be left with a talented young quarterback in Fields who would be on his rookie contract and have more time to develop, an excellent situation for a rebuilding team.

If Darnold does excel in 2021 and earns himself a new contract, there would likely still be a market for Fields around the NFL.