Carolina Panthers Have NFL's Worst QB Situation Entering 2022 Draft

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2022

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, right, talks to quarterback Sam Darnold during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Nell Redmond/Associated Press

Every roster still has weaknesses to address after free agency, and the 2022 NFL draft is a prime opportunity to land immediate contributors.

In the Carolina Panthers' case, however, the story is simple: They need a quarterback. Desperately.

Yes, the position is one of several needs for the Panthers, and they're not alone. Each of the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks have a long-term hole at QB and may target the position in the draft.

Carolina, however, finds itself in the worst situation of all, from organizational stability to the current QB room to their draft outlook.

Third-year coach Matt Rhule is approaching the 2022 campaign on a hot seat. He's mustered a 10-23 record in the last two seasons, whiffed on multiple QB acquisitions and lost fan support as a product of both questionable game management and verbally throwing his players under the bus.

Rhule's job security is tied heavily to the Panthers' level of success this season.

Now, compare that to the others.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Seahawks boss Pete Carroll are secure in their jobs. Falcons coach Arthur Smith is entering his second year and will receive a fair bit of patience after the team traded Matt Ryan this offseason. Dennis Allen is approaching his debut season in charge of the Saints. It'd be downright stunning if any of them aren't coaching their respective team in the fall of 2023.

Rhule has to get it rightright now. And if you're not optimistic he can, well, there's a lot of justification for that.

Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

After hiring Rhule in January 2020, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater in free agency only to trade him a year later. They acquired Sam Darnold last April and exercised his $18.9 million fifth-year option for 2022 before he managed just 6.2 yards per attempt in an injury-shortened season.

And in March, Carolina tried to land Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. Hindsight will be necessary for an opinion there, but it was nonetheless a failed pursuit for an upgrade.

Short of a shocking trade, the Panthers' lone remaining path to a franchise QB this offseason is through the draft.

The good news is Carolina holds the No. 6 overall pick. And, hey, maybe the Panthers legitimately do strike gold with Liberty's Malik Willis, Pitt's Kenny Pickett or Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder.

The negative side, however, is that Carolina only holds the sixth selection before a long wait. After sending a second- and fourth-rounder to the New York Jets for Darnold, the Panthers packaged a third-rounder to grab cornerback C.J. Henderson from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Carolina's second scheduled pick in 2022 isn't until No. 137the seventh-to-last spot of the fourth round.

Uh, yikes.

Given the roster's handful of needs in addition to quarterback, trading down would be ideal. Yet because it's a critical season for Rhule's future, he can hardly afford to miss on his preferred QB.

Kenny Pickett
Kenny PickettJacob Kupferman/Associated Press

And once again, the comparison to other QB-needy teams is hardly one. Atlanta has the No. 8 selection and two second-round picks and two third-round picks. Pittsburgh owns its original picks through Day 2, and New Orleans has a pair of first-round choices with its second-rounder. Seattle sits at No. 9 in 2022 and added a 2023 first-rounder from the Denver Broncos in the Russell Wilson trade. The Seahawks also have two second-rounders in 2022.

Look, there's no guarantee any of those franchises ultimately make the right selection. But they have options, which is a distinct contrast to the Panthers' outlook today.

One route we haven't mentioned is the current trade market, where the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers are dangling Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo, respectively. They're on the market for a reason, though, and it's not because they're just too good to keep around. Mayfield and Garoppolo aren't much safer long-term prospects than a rookie QB, if at all.

Carolina is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Following a fourth consecutive losing season, the Panthers understand they need improvement at QB to snap the streak. They haven't hidden from that reality, either.

This is the NFL's worst QB situation. The challenge for Carolina is to ensure that, eight months from now, it hasn't become painfully clear the Panthers left the draft in the same way, too.