When free agency rolls around there tends to be a big shakeup with team needs. Player subtractions can create new draft needs for teams while player additions will give teams more flexibility to draft other areas of need—or just have a much better “best player available” approach.
For the Carolina Panthers, as free agency unfolded, they added the likes of linebacker Denzel Perryman, pass rusher Haason Reddick, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, and interior offensive lineman Pat Elflein. Those signings weren’t as individually impactful as they were freeing; freeing for the Panthers to do what we believed they’d do all along.
Go get a quarterback.
Let’s put Deshaun Watson aside here and just focus on the draft. The Panthers currently have the No. 8 overall pick. If they stay at No. 8, they likely won’t have the chance to select the quarterback they want out of the top four guys: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. Maybe they have a chance at Lance, but that’s a maybe. But if they move up, they could somewhat control their fate of who they have the chance to draft.
Though things aren’t 100% certain, we can all but write in pen Lawrence going No. 1 overall. It’s also becoming increasingly predictable that Wilson will go No. 2. That leaves two quarterbacks left, both of whom the Panthers should like. We’ve talked a lot about them potentially getting Fields, but what about Lance? Could the Panthers be fine not trading up to No. 3 and instead getting Lance another, less expensive way? Or, heck, would the Panthers be willing to trade up to take Lance over Fields? Let’s think about this as a whole for the Panthers’ situation.
The pros of drafting Lance are easy; he’s big, tall, has a rocket arm, barely turned the ball over, is a mack truck when in the open field, and you hope his best ball is ahead of him.
Lance was a big-time playmaker for the prestigious North Dakota State University football program (FCS). As a sophomore in 2019, he threw 28 touchdowns with no interceptions while completing almost 67% of his passes for more than 2,700 passing yards. Lance didn’t get to play more than one game during the 2020 season due to COVID-19, so all we have to go off is his lone year as a starter. That could turn some teams off from using a top pick on him. However, for the Panthers, it could make sense.
They still have Teddy Bridgewater, and though they have actively looked to upgrade that spot, the contract they signed him to will mean he is at least $20 million on their cap no matter what—$22 million if on the team and $20 million in dead money if cut. When they signed Bridgewater a year ago, the idea seemed to be for him to start these next two years and then have their franchise quarterback (whoever it would be) take over after that. But, due to how high they are picking in the draft and due to the caliber of a quarterback class this is, that may have accelerated their comfortable timeline.
The Panthers also still have Joe Brady as their offensive coordinator, which could go into the desire to push for a new quarterback now. With so much success working with Joe Burrow in college and a solid showing in his first season as an offensive coordinator with the Panthers, Brady might get snatched up as a future head coach. Making the most of him still being in Carolina could come with getting his hands on a young quarterback like Lance.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be drafting Lance above Fields; Fields has more experience and plenty of success against better competition. If Carolina does that, they have even more faith in the young passer than I do. But I could see a world where they don’t get as aggressive for trade up and land themselves Lance anyways. Maybe that’s the move they want to make. In that case, their current situation bodes well for Lance not getting thrown to the wolves right away.
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