CHARLOTTE - It's the most wonderful time of the year. Or something.
There are a lot of amazing things coming at us all at once here. Also, the holidays.
For one, the Panthers are about to play their most important game in years, with their playoff chances on the line Sunday in Seattle. That's a real sentence, built of words that were put there on purpose because they're true.
Also, the Panthers cut a former No. 1 overall pick quarterback in Baker Mayfield this week, and that's, at best, the third-most startling transaction of the season so far. That should tell you a lot about the season to date.
That means Sam Darnold will get a chance to follow up a solid start against the Broncos, as he heads into the second of what could be a six-week audition for the entire league since he's a free agent at the end of the year.
So with all that said, and that's a lot already, let's take a look at the post-bye correspondence (and it appears some of you took the weekend off as well):
---------------------------------------------------------- You mentioned that the Panthers would likely look to add a veteran QB in the offseason. Can we admit going into this year with Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold was a mistake and do what we should've done last year - bring Cam Newton back to bridge for our future QB(s)? Neither of the three QBs we've played this year has played anywhere near Cam's level of play. Add on his ability to mentor our next QB and giving the fanbase a reason to care.
Bonus question: Why do the Panthers refuse to put their trust in anyone at all at the position? No team in the league shuffles around QBs like the Panthers do. Since the end of last season, Sam was benched for Cam, Cam was benched for PJ Walker, Cam was benched for Sam, Sam was benched for Baker, Baker was benched for PJ, and Baker was benched for Sam. That's six benchings. I don't feel like looking it up, but I seriously doubt any other team would have more than two in that stretch. Constantly looking over your shoulder and never being able to get into a rhythm obviously has a huge effect on the confidence and play of a QB.
The Panthers brought in two former Pro Bowl QBs in Cam and Baker, and gave them a COMBINED eight full games from start to finish, and apparently, that was enough to move on from both. I just can't imagine any other team in the NFL deciding that two No. 1 pick, Pro Bowl QBs are finished after less than half a season of games between them. - Jarod, Indianapolis, IN
Wow, what the mail lacked in volume this week, it made up for in intensity right out of the chute.
I think, in theory, Jarod's desire for a sense of stability at the position is reasonable and fair. Of course, you'd rather have a guy you could play for a decade at a time or even five years and never have to worry about it. And living in Indianapolis, you'd think he'd realize that was often easier said than done.
The problem is, none of those guys Jarod mentioned suggested anything with their play that would merit that kind of commitment moving forward.
Newton was one of the great and true and good things the Panthers have ever put on the field. He's a once-a-generation talent, and we as a media overuse that phrase. But it applies to him. I think he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (and will be voting as such) because he's done things no one else has ever done in the sport.
But he also couldn't throw the ball effectively last year (64.4 passer rating), hasn't thrown it well in a while (his "level of play" was very different before and after the Pittsburgh game in 2018), and isn't playing anywhere at the moment, which suggests that there's not a clamor around the league for his services. Though, in theory, I think there are a couple of situations at the moment that could be conducive to his particular set of skills. But if the universe is sending you a message, sometimes you have to listen.
Mayfield (74.4 passer rating here) also struggled to throw the ball effectively. This one is still fresh, and I'm fascinated to see what he does in his next stop with the Rams (who claimed him Tuesday and picked up the remaining $1.35 million left of his contract). His problems this year are hard to explain because there was sufficient evidence to point to a more positive outcome.
When he played with a great offensive line and run game in Cleveland, there was a grip-it-and-rip-it quality to his game. He's got an edge about him, and playing for a physical team suited him. But those things were (at least to a lesser degree) true here also, and he didn't have the same kind of zip.
I'm not sure if it was old injuries, bad habits, or if he just wasn't a schematic fit. But it didn't work, and that's kind of weird to me because a lot of people thought it would be better.
I do know that despite the stories out of Cleveland, what I observed of Mayfield here was that he was a good teammate. The guys in the locker room responded to his personality; it appeared genuine, and having watched him work out when he was trying to come back from his ankle injury, he earned a lot of respect in the building with his toughness and resilience. When the early reports were that he'd miss a month or more, he passed me in the workplace one day and said, "Six weeks, my a--." He lived for the chance to prove people wrong.
But as with Newton last year, the results weren't there. You can and should stick with things, but at a certain point, consistency just becomes stubbornness and it stops being a virtue. Knowing when to call it can also be a valuable management skill.
At some point, they have to find a guy. This was also true each of the last three years when they tried, and will also be true in about 20 other NFL cities this offseason.
---------------------------------------------------------- What's up, Darin! I have been afraid of this for weeks but will the Panthers trade for (hypothetical quarterback under contract to another team) in the offseason? WE BETTER NOT. The only reason I think we could trade for him is because we have done this before. - Zach, Charlotte
First off, get back to class, Zach.
Secondly, it almost doesn't matter which name I redacted there because the point is more of a global one than a specific one.
The thing about pursuing quarterbacks is you do it until you get it right. So you keep looking ahead.
Circling back to Jarod's question at the top, of course, they'd like to find a guy and stick with him. And the easiest way to do that would be to draft a good one and have him win the job.
But if you aren't able to do that (between the choices other people get to make or your own evaluations), you still have to find a quarterback.
There will certainly be guys available through trades this offseason. There will be free agents. There are a handful of interesting draft names. By the time the league year begins in March and they could sign or trade for someone, they'll know when they're picking and have a general sense of what's possible. If the season ended today, they'd be picking sixth, and a good quarterback seems likely to be available at six. Also, a lot of people would be saying, "Why did the season end on the Tuesday of Week 14?"
So if they make a move in March, it could signal what they think of the draft options available in the vicinity of their pick since it's reasonable to assume they'd rather have a younger and cheaper one.
And since I'm the one who vetted Zach's mail, I can tell you it's at least intriguing for a number of reasons. But again, GO BACK TO CLASS, ZACH.
---------------------------------------------------------- So on the 70 percent thing (the condition on the pick going back to Cleveland in the Mayfield trade), I'm reminded of the Yannick Ngakoue trade of a few years ago. Any idea is something similar applies here? - Justin, Charlotte
See, I like this kind of question because it's kind of a deep cut, and it gets me to go out and commit a journalism and not just blather on and on as I'm prone to do.
When pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Ravens, the conditions on the previous trade the Vikings made to get him from the Jaguars followed along. (ESPN's Adam Schefter explained the deal in detail here, but to make a long story short, things he did while a not-Viking could have still cost the Vikings in terms of compensation).
And even though people always say the devil is in the details - it's actually God - the Panthers covered themselves on this one.
Mayfield's contract here specified (source, my two eyes) that the Browns would get a fourth-rounder in 2024 instead of a fifth if he played 70 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps. He did not. If the contract was written vaguely (for instance, if it just said 70 percent of his team's snaps without specifying which team), then it might have been possible for snaps played for another team to apply.
But this one was buttoned-up on the front side. The pick going back to Cleveland is a fifth in 2024, period. For the money they spent, and a chance on a quarterback who had been to the playoffs, it was an understandable choice at the time. Also, you can see all of the picks the Panthers have in 2023 here, and the 2024 selections here.
---------------------------------------------------------- Long time no chat. How is the fam? I figured I could ask a question that would get down into the nitty gritty. With Christmas coming up, are you more on the side of turkey or ham? Or do you have a non-traditional meal for Christmas? Personally, we've always enjoyed a nice lasagna on Christmas. It's a good change of pace from my in-law's traditional ham and turkey ways. Hope you have a very merry Christmas and happy holidays. - Cory, Big Stone Gap, VA
Family is delightful Cory; thanks for asking.
I'll also accept deliveries of that lasagna, especially on Christmas Eve since I'll be here at the office instead of around the hearth singing carols and drinking egg nog (mmmmm, egg nog, don't get me started. Actually, that sounds pretty good right this instant, I'll be right back).
Where were we? (Hiccup.) Oh, Cory and his lasagna. This is actually an inspired idea.
I think, as a culture, we have cheapened turkey by sticking it into every kid's sandwich from the time they become portable (the kids and the sandwiches). And there's never a bad time for ham, as I celebrate the entire catalog of the pig.
But I completely dig on the idea of going off the menu for a big holiday. A lasagna sounds great. If I knew where to acquire a good leg of goat (and had time), a birria would be amazing. One holiday a few years back when I was on my own for food, I made a mess of vegetarian burritos which made me thankful and happy and full for days on end. But if there was a unique and special dish (like a rare Who roast beast, or some kind of whole fish that still had the head on it, or a paella with a lot of seafood and saffron), then that would be a fantastic holiday meal.
Consider this my solicitation for invitations. As a dinner guest, I consider myself a damned delight. I'll be over after deadline and will bring my own nog and enough to share.
Because that's the key, is having so much of whatever you cook that there's room for extra people. That's what makes the holiday memorable.
---------------------------------------------------------- Ahh Panthers football again this week! I hope the bye week was a recharge for you. One question that's been on my mind forever is what happens at offensive coordinator if Steve Wilks is retained? - Jeff, Henderson, NV
Not to nitpick Jeff here, since he's a regular (and was kind enough to ask about my welfare, and thanks, bye weeks are amazing), but there are layers of problems with this question.
Mostly, Wilks hasn't gotten to that point yet, because he's staying firmly in the moment (and if you preach it but don't walk it, smart people will sniff it out quickly).
He's on Seattle right now and will continue to work on the day in front of him until there are no days left. That's just how he's wired.
At the end of the season, there will be a coaching search. Wilks will be a part of it. They'll still have to comply with the Rooney Rule and interview at least two external minority candidates, and I'm sure there are a number of people they're curious about.
I can't honestly tell you what's going to happen with Wilks or anyone on staff (or any of us in general, if we're being honest), because I don't know how the next five weeks are going to shake out. As Ben McAdoo said, I left my crystal ball in my other pants. Until we know that, all the other stuff is premature.
---------------------------------------------------------- Let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.
Hey D. Are we going to take a look at that CFL QB? I believe his name is Nathan Rourke - Cody, Four Oaks, NC
It's an interesting idea, and he has a number of workouts reported already, but the Panthers haven't been mentioned yet. I imagine they'll look at some other guys, and they brought Elon's Davis Cheek back to the practice squad Tuesday. But a CFL quarterback with designs on competing for a backup job in the NFL is one thing. Their next big QB search here will be for a starter in 2023.
Darin, your thoughts on Matt Rhule being hired as Nebraska's head coach? Thanks! Keep up the awesome work and Keep Pounding and GBR - Craig, Elkhorn, NE (a self-described Cornhuskers and Panthers fan).
Hoping for the best for him and you. Also, fascinated by the Venn diagram that includes Nebraska and Charlotte, which I guess includes a few more people now.
Hey, long-time reader, first time asking. I see the articles about the Panthers QB situation. But what about the third round draft pick Mr. Matt Corral. I mean the question is what does the team think of him, is he worth it or grab someone else? - TJ, Dorchester, SC
I was beginning to break into a cold sweat, because no one had asked the Weekly Matt Corral Question (trademark pending). Thank you, TJ, and welcome; you're a true servant of the people. (Seriously, as we've mentioned before, he's probably part of the equation next year, but since he's been hurt all year, you can't honestly expect him to be the only part.)
Hey Darin, love the Mailbag. Good stuff, even if Jeff from Fuquay-Varina doesn't get it. With all of the talk about JJ Jansen tying the venerable John Kasay's franchise record for games played, and more stories likely about him breaking the record next game, it got me to thinking, "There used to be a section of Panthers.com that listed historical records for the team. I always enjoyed looking at that. Whatever happened to it?" Actually, I've been wondering that for a couple of years now. Could you talk to the web guys and have them bring that back? P.S. You should have the t-shirt people make a "Shut up, Jeff!" tee. I would totally buy one. Maybe sell them and donate proceeds to Jeff's favorite charity. - Chris, Greensboro, NC
Jeff thinks your question is too long, Chris.
We've got some cool historical stuff planned for the coming months, and I'll talk to the web guy (who also knows the T-shirt guy) about the other thing. I love the idea of a "Shut up, Jeff" shirt and would wear the second one after I sent the first one to Jeff.
If id got lost, where would ego? - Ralph, Charlotte
Super. This is the content I'm here for.
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