Eight best QB options for Panthers, ranked from Lamar Jackson to Sam Darnold

The Panthers made a pivotal decision at quarterback position during the 2020 offseason when they decided to step away from longtime starter Cam Newton.

Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, struggled with injuries last season and appeared to be recovering before then. So the Panthers parted ways with him and opted to sign Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $20-million-a-year deal.

The hope was that Bridgewater – once a starter for the Vikings and still only 27 – would be able to thrive in a starting role in Carolina.

Instead, the Panthers searched for greener pastures each of the next two offseasons. They traded for Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, but those moves proved half measures at best and failures at worst.

Now the Panthers are looking for their fifth different starter for Week 1 in as many seasons. Fortunately, they will have plenty of options for what could be another offseason for the quarterback movement.

What are Carolina’s best options as a quarterback? Here’s a ranking of signal callers that could be tracking the Panthers.


Panthers QB options for 2023, ranking

1. Act for Lamar Jackson

Trading for Jackson may not be possible for the Panthers. Jackson probably won’t be traded by the Ravens at all.

That means if Jackson and Baltimore hit an impasse on a new contract, there’s little doubt David Tepper and the Panthers would make a smack. They’ve chased numerous top-flight quarterbacks since Tepper bought the team in 2018, and Jackson would have far more potential than any other passer on the market.

Jackson would add another dynamic running element to a Carolina team that continued to perform well after trading for Christian McCaffrey last season on the ground. Add that Jackson is only 26 and looks like a perfect option to help the Panthers gradually develop into a contender.

What’s the problem with this deal? The Panthers are already $7.7 million over the cap and have $28.5 million in dead cap hits for the 2023 season. You could restructure contracts to mitigate this, but that would complicate any deal. And rotating the cap while giving up a lot of draft resources may not be the best course of action for a team that still has a lot of need on offense.

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MORE: What hiring Todd Monken means for Lamar Jackson, Ravens

2. Draft Bryce Young, CJ Stroud or Will Levis

The Panthers are armed with the #9 pick in the 2023 NFL draft. This will put them in a position to capture one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft and build around him while he has a coveted rookie deal.

Young, Stroud and Levis are the quarterbacks selected in the top 10 of this draft. There’s no guarantee either of them will make the Carolina selection, but the Panthers could be aggressive and move up if they really like one of them. And considering the Bears — who already have Justin Fields — own the No. 1, the Panthers could have the option of getting their quarterback of choice.

Some may be reluctant to give up resources to acquire an unproven quarterback. General Manager Scott Fitterer is unlikely to be among them. So don’t rule out the Panthers for Young or Stroud, even though they look like potential top-five picks. And at least Levis could be number 9 in the mix.

NFL MOCK DRAFT: Panthers land QB with first-round pick

3. Trade for Aaron Rodgers

Some may frown upon seeing Rodgers’ name under that of an unproven rookie. What gives? Well, it’s not about Rodgers’ talent as it’s about his age.

Rodgers is 39 and appears to be contemplating retirement. With any potential deal with the Packers, the Panthers have to ask themselves how much longer he would play. is it a year 2 years? More? Without a clear answer, it’s difficult to recommend Rodgers as a top option.

Things would be different if the Panthers were one quarterback away from a contest, but they aren’t. Sure, they could have a playoff run thanks to their position in the struggling NFC South, but they still have a few holes to plug on offense before they’re ready to fight for a Super Bowl.

The Panthers should still consider Rodgers as he would offer the team a huge upgrade as a quarterback. But he wouldn’t make her a slam dunk contender.

MORE: Latest news, updates, rumors on Aaron Rodgers’ status at the Packers

4. Sign Derek Carr

In all honesty, you could argue that signing Carr for the Panthers would be better than trading for Rodgers. Carr isn’t as talented as Rodgers, but he’s a free agent that would come in a lot cheaper than the four-time MVP.

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At this point in his career, 32-year-old Carr is who he is. He’s a solid starter who can have big games but also struggles with turnovers. He could end up resembling what new coach Frank Reich had in his final few seasons at Indianapolis, and that could put the Panthers off Carr.

Still, there’s no denying that Carr would be an upgrade over what Carolina had last season. And perhaps Josh McDaniels’ offense could make Carr more like the guy who completed 68.7 percent of his passes from 2018-21. Under McDaniels, Carr completed 60.8 percent of his passes in 2022, the second worst mark of his career.

Is Carr a sexy pickup? Probably not. But is he an upgrade over the Mayfield-Darnold-PJ Walker space the Panthers had last season? Yes. And that might just be enough to get Carolina into the postseason.

MORE: Jets, Saints among top potential landing spots for Derek Carr

5. Sign Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo is very similar to Carr in being a solid but unspectacular quarterback who would give the Panthers a major upgrade. It would also come in cheaper than Jackson and Rodgers and would cost no draft assets.

The big difference between Garoppolo and Carr is that the former has led his teams into a couple of deep playoff runs. Remember, the 49ers were in a close battle with the Chiefs in the 2020 Super Bowl before Patrick Mahomes and co. pulled away in the fourth quarter.

The other big difference, of course, is that Garoppolo was the most quarterback-friendly offense in the NFL. It made Brock Purdy look like Tom Brady’s second coming until he ripped his UCL. So there is some risk that Garoppolo could regress if it is removed from Kyle Shanahan’s system.

Still, Garoppolo would give the Panthers a chance to contend for the NFC South title. While more of a bridge quarterback, he’s still young enough at 31 to be a multi-year starter. That would buy the Panthers time to tinker with their roster before finally finding their preferred replacement at quarterback.

MORE: How Tom Brady’s retirement affects the 49ers, possible Jimmy Garoppolo reunion

6. Draft by Anthony Richardson

Richardson is one of the more polarizing quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL draft class. The Florida product has great mobility and a cannon arm that allows him to make big plays. The problem is that his accuracy is elusive, as in 2022 he completed just 53.8 percent of his passes while throwing 17 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions.

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Richardson could fit well on Reich’s offense, and Carolina’s talent evaluators may see shades from Cam Newton when the 6-4, 236-pounder is on the move. But the reason he’s so low on this list is because he’s a real boom-or-bust prospect. And if he’s a bust, that could wreck the Reich and Fitterer brain trust.

So should Richardson be considerate of the Panthers in 9th place? Absolutely. But should he be clearly their choice if the other three quarterbacks come off the board? Not necessarily.

The team drawing Richardson must have patience. Carolina did not demonstrate with Tepper in the lead.

7. Sign Jacoby Brissett

Despite all the buzz surrounding Deshaun Watson as the quarterback improvement for the Browns, Brissett played better in 2022. The journeyman did well as a starter during Watson’s 11-game suspension and his numbers per start were far better than Watson’s.

Stat Brisett watson
completion percentage 64.0 58.2
Past farms 163.0 183.7
Passing TDs 1.1 1.2
intercept 0.5 0.8
meters per attempt 7.1 6.5
passer rating 88.9 79.1
QBR 59.9 38.3
PFF class 82.6 (6th of 39) 55.3 (35th of 39)

All of which means Brissett is better than most give him credit for and in the right situation he can be a good starter.

Would this work in Carolina? He certainly wouldn’t be bad Possibility. However, it would still feel like a half measure to lock the position – similar to the signing of Bridgewater and the trades for Darnold and Mayfield.

So the Panthers probably wouldn’t be happy just landing Brissett. You would also need to land a youngster on the top to learn behind him.

8. Re-sign Sam Darnold

Darnold was an afterthought early in the season as he dealt with an ankle injury, but he eventually returned to the field and earned some late-season starts. He did well, putting up a 4-2 record while throwing seven touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.

Certainly Darnold showed growth during this time. He almost got the Panthers into the playoffs and won’t turn 26 until June.

So why is he the bottom option on this list? Well, like signing Brissett, re-signing Darnold alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee the Panthers would be a playoff team. And unlike a Brissett signing, there’s not even a guarantee the Panthers will be better off if they bring Darnold back.

It could turn out to be pairing Darnold with a young quarterback or even signing him as a top backup. But if he’s the team’s Plan A at quarterback this year, the Panthers likely won’t make the step forward that a quarterback upgrade would offer them.

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