Ohio State's CJ Stroud during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Photo: Cecil Copeland/ Associate Press

Nearly four years after the Panthers cut Cam Newton, the team plans to find its next franchise quarterback this offseason.

Since David Tepper purchased the team in 2018, the team has played at least eight quarterbacks. 

New head coach Frank Reich said he believes the team can compete for a Super Bowl next season and finding their man under center will be a significant factor in the team’s success.

Four quarterbacks are projected to be selected in the first round of the April 27 NFL draft, many draft analysts say. The Panthers hold the ninth pick and are expected to be aggressive in trading up ahead of several quarterback-needy teams.  

The free agent market, slim with options, has become less appealing in the past few days after former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr signed with division rival New Orleans Saints on Monday. 

Any free agent quarterback the Panthers target will likely serve as a bridge signal caller so the team can draft and develop a rookie for next season.

The team may consider making a blockbuster trade for an already proven guy to lead their team into the foreseeable future. 

Here are quarterback options the team could look at this offseason:

Draft prospects

C.J. Stroud – Ohio State University

Stroud has had a successful career in Columbus. He finished with 85 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions and finished second in QBR in 2022 (88.9), leading one of the nation’s high-octane offenses as a two-year starter.

Scouts have touted his accuracy in college, but the question now is how quickly that translates to the NFL.

Stroud improved his draft stock for his performance during the College Football Playoff semifinal game against the Georgia Bulldogs, the eventual national champions. 

The Heisman finalist showcased his potential as a runner and mover in the pocket, something he hasn’t been known for.

Stroud only participated in throwing drills at the combine, but his 

Anthony Richardson – Florida University

Last season, Richardson had moments where he showcased his potential as a top quarterback prospect. However, inconsistency in the passing game hurt the Gators all season and was a big reason why the team finished 6-6 in 2022.

Richardson was viewed as a quarterback that could fall to the Panthers at the ninth pick, but an impressive NFL combine increased his draft stock.

He set combine position records with his 40.5-inch vertical leap and 10 feet, 9-inch broad jump. In his only attempt, Richardson ran an official clocking of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. 

Richardson may need time to develop his pocket presence, but his strong arm and athletic ability give him the highest potential of all the quarterback prospects.

The 6-foot-4, 244-pounder is being compared to Cam Newton. 

Will Levis – The University of Kentucky 

Like Richardson, Levis has a strong arm and dual-threat ability but is viewed as a development project. 

In his two years at Kentucky, Levis accounted for 54 total touchdowns (43 passing and 11 rushing).

Injuries plagued his last season, and he struggled to put together a consistent, high-quality campaign in 2022.

His high draft prospects come from his impressive deep ball and ability to make throws with elite velocity and quick release.

His mechanics and ball placement have been questionable, contributing to 23 interceptions over the past two years. He has also shown inconsistency in footwork and moving off primary reads. 

Analysts have compared him to Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills based on potential.

Picking up the ideal bridge quarterback

Jacoby Brissett

Although Brissett has spent most of his career as a backup, he has proven to be a reliable option when he’s been a starter.

Last season, Brissett started the Browns’ first 11 games due to Deshaun Watson’s sexual harassment allegations and suspension

Despite the team’s 4-7 record, the 30-year-old quarterback led the team with 2,608 passing yards and 14 total touchdowns while completing 64% of his passes for an 88.9 passer rating, both career highs.

Brissett is familiar with Reich, playing with the coach for four seasons in  Indianapolis. A reunion would make sense. 

Sam Darnold

Darnold wasn’t a fan favorite in Carolina after his lackluster first season with the team in 2021, finishing with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

In 2022, he lost the first-string competition to Baker Mayfield before the start of the season. Darnold reclaimed the job after the team traded Mayfield midseason, and PJ Walker got hurt. 

He served as a game manager, leaning heavily on the run game and making key throws when needed. His play led the team one game shy of a playoff berth.

His familiarity with the team and new quarterback coach and former Jets teammate Josh McCown would make him an ideal signing. He will also be the cheapest option in the market.

Surprising trade target

Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens

Jackson wants to get paid but can’t seem to agree on a reasonable deal with the Ravens’ front office. 

He wants a deal similar to the $230 million, fully guaranteed deal that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson received after Cleveland traded for Watson last March. Watson’s deal is the largest single-contract guarantee in NFL history.

On Tuesday, the Ravens placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, allowing the quarterback to negotiate with other teams, but the Ravens have the right to match any offer sheet he signs or take two first-round picks in return for him. 

After nearly four years in quarterback purgatory, the Panthers take their chances at trading for Jackson instead of developing a rookie.

On Monday, the Charlotte Observer reported Carolina wasn’t willing to meet quarterback Derek Carr’s contract demands. Carr came off his worse season of his career with the Raiders and will be 32-years-old at the start of the season.

The Panthers may be more open spending their money on a more talented and young option in Jackson, who is 26-years-old and in the peak of his prime. 

According to a tweet from Joe Person of the Athletic, the Panthers “are not expected to be in the Jackson market.” But this could be a “smokescreen” tactic to hide their true intentions, Panthers beat reporters Sheena Quick and Vashti Hurts said yesterday in Twitter Space chat. 

Carolina currently has the second-highest cap space in the league. Tepper wasn’t afraid to pursue Deshaun Watson last offseason, so he shouldn’t hesitate to consider Jackson. 

Jalon is a general assignment reporter for QCity Metro. He is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and an avid sports fan. (jalon@qcitymetro.com)

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