Granted, the Carolina Panthers do play in one of the tougher divisions in the NFL, but the NFC South franchise was expected to compete at a high level in 2020.
While significant injuries to some key players almost immediately derailed such plans for Carolina, the Panthers ultimately finished the 2020 regular season at a dismal 5-11 en route to earning the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Although first-time NFL head coach Matt Rhule’s initial go-round in Carolina didn’t go as planned, there are no doubt quite a few highly skilled players on the Panthers’ current roster.
Led by All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who was injured for the better part of this past season, the Panthers’ offense also added veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the mix ahead of the 2020 campaign. Even though the tandem barely had any time to get going due to an abbreviated offseason and a forgettable yearfor McCaffrey, the seasoned signal-caller didn’t exactly impress in his first season as the starter under center.
Signed to a three-year, $63 million free-agent contract, the expectations were pretty high for Bridgewater upon making his way to Carolina, and the jury is still out on his future with the lowly NFC South franchise.
Due to the fact that the Panthers have a top 10 NFL Draft pick in 2021 alongside the notion that there are several notable quarterbacks currently available via the trade market, perhaps Carolina pulls the plug on the Bridgewater experiment a bit sooner than originally expected. It would definitely benefit the team more to trade Bridgewater, though releasing him would certainly pave the way for another formidable presence to take over at the league’s premier position.
As it stands today, there are three quarterback-needy teams ahead of Carolina in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. With the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1, the New York Jets at No. 2 and the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4, a team that may or may not go quarterback in this spot, the Panthers could very well have a legitimate shot at adding an up-and-coming signal-caller to kick off the annual event this time around.
Of course, other franchises that need a quarterback more than Carolina can jump up to the early portion of the first round via trade, while the Panthers’ position could allow the team’s front office to get creative in more ways than one.
The Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, and perhaps the Houston Texans and several other teams are presently in need of a quarterback–with the Texans potentially looking to trade the team’s current starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. Perhaps there is a deal to be made between Carolina and Houston as both teams can fill their respective needs at quarterback ahead of the 2021 campaign. It is also worth noting that teams that ultimately miss out on the top quarterback talent come draft day may want to contact Carolina about Bridgewater’s services as well.
If the Panthers were to release Bridgewater prior to June 1, the team would encounter a dead cap hit of a whopping $20 million alongside a salary cap saving of just $2,953,125. If the team is to release the former Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints quarterback after June 1, Carolina’s 2021-22 dead cap hit would be reduced to $15 million with its 2022dead cap hit coming in at $5 million.
The Panthers’ 2021-22 salary cap savings would then amount to $7,953,125. On the other hand, a pre-June 1 trade would lead to a $10 million dead cap hit next season alongside a salary cap savings of $12,953,125. If Bridgewater was traded away after June 1, the Panthers’ dead cap hit in both 2021 and 2022 would be $5 million to coincide with a salary cap savings of $17,953,125—which is a figure that can certainly move the needle for Rhule and company.
In his first season in Carolina in 2020, the 28-year-old Bridgewater appeared in 15 regular-season games and recorded 3,733 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also produced five rushing touchdowns alongside 279 yards via the ground game. Bridgewater also completed just over 69 percent of his passing attempts last season. Was it a terrible season? No. Was it a season worth more than $20 million? Also, no.
Thanks to the presence of backups P.J. Walker and Will Grier, the Panthers have a deep quarterback room and a rock-solid offense that could use just a slight boost. For example, pairing a player like the aforementioned Watson could change the entire landscape of this franchise—especially with players like McCaffrey and wide receivers Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore also in place.