Just when Sam Darnold’s future seemed brightened up, it got messy again.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer has said the team will not decide on Darnold’s fifth-year option for the 2022 season until the 2021 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday.
It was reported shortly after the Panthers traded three draft picks for Darnold on April 5 that they planned to exercise the $ 18.5 million contract option – so this represents either a reconsideration or a smoke screen project.
The deadline for NFL teams to decide to pick fifth-year options out of all 2018 first-round draft picks is May 3. That’s four months before the start of each player’s fourth season. Most teams wait until after the draft, even when an option is obviously going to be exercised, like the Giants and Saquon Barkley.
“We have a solid plan in place,” Fitterer said.
It seems blasphemous to think that the Panthers would trade for Darnold as a one-year rental when two of the picks they gave up in compensation are in the 2022 draft. Denying his option would mean opening the door for him to go into free agency, having to negotiate a long-term extension sooner than expected or use the very expensive franchise tag to keep it around.
Is it possible the Panthers could draft a quarterback like Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance with the No.8 pick next week? If they do, then the writing is on the wall not to take Darnold’s option. It sounds more like a bluff to create a trading market for the choice.
“There are actually quite a few that we’re getting excited about,” Fitterer said of the quarterbacks. “But we’re not going to go into exactly who.”
Darnold was meant to be the quarterback of the future for the Jets. It only lasted three disappointing seasons of roster, coaching and front-office turnover before he was traded to make way for alleged second-choice Zach Wilson.
The Panthers could use the No.8 pick to draft an elite pass-catcher or a left tackle to help Darnold grow. Or they could set up a drama.
“I think you’re still learning from the experiences you have, and it’s not just the quarterbacks,” Fitterer said. “It’s every post. I believe in attracting the best players who can fit your team, creating competition and improving your roster. So whether it’s a quarterback, a corner kick, it doesn’t matter. This is how they fit into our team, what is the path to success and what is our plan. “