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What Are The Panthers Doing?

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Despite reported “mutual disinterest” between quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers, Carolina now reportedly has the “inside track” to land Mayfield.

Wait, what? Yes, in late March, Pro Football Network reported that league sources said Mayfield had no interest in playing for the Panthers (who would!), “and the feeling is mutual.” Nearly four weeks later, Cleveland.com reports that the trade “could happen sometime over the next couple of weeks.”

I absolutely believe Mayfield is not interested in playing for the Panthers, who have been among the most directionless franchises in the league since Matt Rhule arrived in 2020. Carolina is a rebuilding team that has chosen the wrong quarterback for two consecutive years and is now out of runway to actually do the rebuilding itself. It’s not an ideal destination for any quarterback, rookie or veteran. Rhule is now on his third shot to find the right quarterback, and he won’t get a fourth. Mayfield would be an upgrade from Darnold, his 2018 draft classmate, but for Mayfield, there’s no upside to playing for Carolina. This still feels like a front office with absolutely no plan in place other than saving jobs in the present while sacrificing the future.

Oh, and the Panthers’ best receiver has made his disinterest in Mayfield very known.

I’m not sure if I believe the Panthers will really trade for Mayfield in the next two weeks, which conveniently, is exactly how much time is left before the draft. But I’m also not sure if I believe they are organized enough to plant that news as a bit of draft subterfuge, so that other teams won’t expect them to select a quarterback, or so that they can trade down and still have a shot at drafting a QB.

Trading for Mayfield seems like a bad idea if their own disinterest is real (can’t wait to see the press conference where general manager Scott Fitterer tries to manufacture excitement over Mayfield as the new guy), but doing so doesn’t prevent them from taking a quarterback like Liberty’s Malik Willis in this draft. I was shocked when the Panthers didn’t take a quarterback last year with the eighth pick, choosing a cornerback and leaving Justin Fields and Mac Jones on the board. The Panthers haven’t drafted a quarterback in Rhule’s two seasons, and I’m not really sure what the point would be to draft one now. They’d likely just be stranding a poor rookie in a Mitchell Trubisky/Justin Fields situation, where the coach who took him and played him too early is fired a year later and the quarterback has to start over and move past the mental trauma of getting sacked nine times in one game.

All of which is to say I have no idea what the Panthers are doing and I’m not sure they do either.

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