Apparently the Carolina Panthers aren’t even giving Sam Darnold a full training camp before considering a potential quarterback upgrade in Deshaun Watson.
While the NFL continues to investigate the numerous sexual misconduct allegations leveled at Watson, Carolina is “quietly keeping an eye on Watson,“ per ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio.
Watson did lead the NFL in passing yards last season on an awful Houston Texans team, and is also a serious threat to run the ball. He’s pretty much everything you’d want from a modern quarterback from a pure playing standpoint.
Now, obviously the scandal that surrounds Watson puts his future in doubt. In the meantime, he’s taking practice reps at safety and serving as the Texans’ fourth-string QB.
If Darnold were blowing the doors off of his second opportunity to be a franchise quarterback after his failed stint with the New York Jets, trading for Watson wouldn’t really be under consideration, especially given the circumstances surrounding him.
Yes, if Watson is fully exonerated, teams will be lining up to try to acquire him, since he’s already demanded a trade from Houston.
But the fact that the Panthers would be willing to presumably sacrifice a ton of assets after already giving up second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to land Darnold suggests that the team really isn’t behind him.
Despite the unquestionably improved circumstances he’ll be in with his new team, this version of Darnold fans see in Carolina will likely be much of the same we’ve seen dating back to his career at USC. He’ll make some “wow” throws, he’ll extend plays with his legs, but he’ll also give the ball away often and make questionable decisions.
Until more clarity is had on Watson’s situation, figuring out what the baseline would be for a trade is tricky. Firstly, how much wrongdoing is he responsible for, and how does that impact his value?
Also important to consider: Even if Watson is fully exonerated, don’t suitors have all the leverage, since they know there’s no future in which the QB dons a Texans jersey?
Taking all these factors into account, here’s a potential Watson-to-Panthers trade scenario:
It’s virtually certain that Houston would want more than this, but again, the team hardly has any leverage at this point. Getting multiple first-round picks, plus a young QB with upside in Darnold, gives the Texans flexibility in addressing their QB situation going forward.
Watson would obviously take Carolina from fringe playoff contender under Darnold to legitimate Super Bowl hopeful. Maybe that fact is why the Panthers are rumored to still be in on Watson if the chance presents itself, and this author’s suspicion that they’re not sold on Darnold is a little overblown.
However things play out, Watson will be on a different team at some point, and Carolina has been linked to him for a long time. Charlotte seems as likely a destination for Watson as anywhere else.