Another quarterback trade, and more ripples could follow in the first round of the NFL draft.
A little more than a week after the San Francisco 49ers jumped from the No. 12 spot to No. 3 by pulling off a blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins to ensure that they could select an elite passer in this year’s draft, the Carolina Panthers seemingly have now bowed out of the 2021 quarterback sweepstakes. On Monday, the Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets in exchange for three draft picks – a sixth-round selection this year as well as second- and fourth-rounders in 2022.
Carolina desperately wanted to upgrade the quarterback position this offseason after starting Teddy Bridgewater in the fall. But the team’s first choice seemed to be landing a veteran. The Panthers craved Deshaun Watson, per reports, but the Houston Texans’ unwillingness to trade him and the legal storm clouding his future threw a wrench into Carolina’s plans. The Panthers also had pursued Matthew Stafford but got outbid by the Los Angeles Rams, who landed the signal-caller in a January trade with the Detroit Lions.
The possibility had remained that Matt Rhule and Co. would either use the eighth overall pick on a quarterback or that they would put together a package to move up in the draft to avoid missing out on a top remaining prospect.
But with Darnold now in the fold, and with the team expected to pick up the fifth-year option on the 2018 No. 3 overall pick’s rookie contract, Carolina’s need for a quarterback has been filled.
That means Carolina has options. They can either use the eighth pick to fill another position of need, draft for talent or field trade inquiries and acquire more picks to fortify their roster.
Carolina’s Darnold acquisition also could create opportunities for other teams. There’s one less squad desperate to land whichever of the top quarterbacks remains in the draft.
It’s widely expected that the Jacksonville Jaguars will take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall with the Jets to take BYU’s Zach Wilson second. The 49ers have essentially said they plan to draft a quarterback at No. 3. But the debate ensues: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance?
The Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins follow at Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Although Matt Ryan’s future is cloudy, the Falcons don’t have to take a quarterback this year. The Bengals have their franchise quarterback (Joe Burrow), and Miami’s leadership has backed Tua Tagovailoa.
Detroit traded for Jared Goff and could be set for now. Then there’s Carolina at No. 8.
Could the fourth quarterback in the draft drop into Denver’s lap at No. 9? Or will he slide further? Or, will a team such as New England (15th), Washington (19th) or Chicago (20th) try to move into the top 10 to position itself to take a quarterback?
We’re still three-plus weeks away from the draft and already have seen two major trades that will shift the outcome of the first round. Could more action follow between now and draft night? That feels like a safe bet.