Tuesday, May 30 2023

The same Carolina Panthers team that made Frank Reich the first head-coaching hire of the NFL offseason has now done the same thing in pursuit of a franchise quarterback, taking full control of next month’s NFL Draft.

Sitting at No. 9 overall, Carolina was in a difficult spot, needing a quarterback but knowing, especially after last week’s NFL combine workouts in Indianapolis, that three if not four of the draft’s top QB prospects would be gone by the time they were on the clock. They were a popular pick to trade up in the draft, say up to No. 4 or 5, still missing out on the best passers in this class.

So on Friday, they pulled the trigger on a chips-to-the-middle-of-the-table megadeal, acquiring the No. 1 overall pick from the Chicago Bears, who had made it known their pick was available. The cost for Carolina is substantial — the No. 9 pick, next year’s first-rounder, the No. 61 pick acquired from the 49ers for Christian McCaffrey last fall, a 2025 second-rounder and, last but not least, receiver D.J. Moore, one of their best players at any position.

Carolina is on the clock, with their choice now of several promising quarterbacks. Will it be Florida’s Anthony Richardson, the star of the combine, showing off unreal athleticism and measurables exciting enough to override a limited and inconsistent body of work as a college starter? Will it be the popular pick to go No. 1 before the combine in Alabama’s Bryce Young, who has faced questions about his lack of size after a prolific college career? Or perhaps Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, who impressed on his own in Indianapolis and could also factor into the very top of the draft?


The Panthers have set up their new coaching staff with layers of smart teachers to develop a young quarterback — Reich is a former NFL quarterback himself, with Josh McCown in his first coaching job just removed from a journeyman’s career in the league, and senior assistant Jim Caldwell, who helped Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco to Super Bowl championships.

Reich’s tenure with the Colts was scuttled by the opposite end of the NFL quarterback spectrum, trying to win with a revolving door of veterans and falling short in successive years with Phillips Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Now he goes young, with his choice of this year’s intriguing quarterbacks, knowing he has multiple years to develop and win.

They’ll do so in a division that’s completely up for grabs. Tom Brady’s retirement and Tampa Bay’s salary-cap constraints will likely knock them down a peg, the Saints just added a solid quarterback in Derek Carr. The Falcons have the second-most cap space of any NFL team and the No. 8 overall pick to use in upgrading their own roster. The difference between first and last place in the NFC South last year was literally one game, so all four teams can enter free agency with some level of confidence.

Carolina considered Carr before stepping away and allowing the Saints to give him what amounts to $100 million for three years. Despite two elite quarterbacks being made available via trade, they didn’t get caught up in the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson or the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, choosing instead to package together a massive collection of capital to move to the top of the draft.

Bears trade No. 1 overall pick in NFL Draft to Panthers

Emmanuel Acho, LeSean McCoy, Joy Taylor and Ric Bucher react to news that the Chicago Bears are trading the first overall pick in the NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for WR D.J Moore, the ninth overall pick and additional draft compensation.

This seems like a move made with enough conviction that Carolina knows exactly who they want in this draft — if they liked more than one quarterback, they could have surrendered less, waited to see who fell to No. 3 and tried to outbid the rest. If they’re bold enough to give up so much for this pick, they might be bold enough to take a gamble on Richardson, who put numbers on the eye-popping speed and athleticism he showed last season at Florida — running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds while checking in at 244 pounds, and also registering a 40.5-inch vertical leap.

The Panthers have invested a No. 1 overall pick in a mobile quarterback from the SEC before — Cam Newton had that honor in 2011, eventually winning a league MVP and leading Carolina to a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl appearance, one of two in the franchise’s history.

Carolina hasn’t won a playoff game in seven seasons since, and hasn’t made the playoffs in the last five years. With the excitement surrounding Reich and his staff and a winnable division, expectations will be high for the Panthers, even though it took Newton until his third season to get to the playoffs. That started a run of three straight division titles from 2013-15, falling just short of a championship.

The franchise’s long journey back to that level of sustained success has now taken two big steps, in hiring Reich and now putting the team in position to choose a quarterback to lead them back to the playoffs and national relevance.

In less than seven weeks, the pick will be in.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.  

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