CHARLOTTE, NC – The Carolina Panthers are on the clock for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Not literally, mind you.
But after spending last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, they’re already in the process of deciding how far they’ll move up from the No. 9 overall pick to select their dream quarterback, and how much that will cost.
They weren’t losing sleep over former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr going to the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints because the cost — reportedly $33.5 million a year — was far more than they were willing to pay. invest.
Their main focus was the top four QB prospects in the draft: Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
The Panthers talked to Carr at the combine in large part because he was going to be there. That owner David Tepper was there to meet with the top quarterbacks in the draft made it all the more convenient.
But Carolina was already talking to teams about moving up before it was announced that Carr would be headed to the Saints on Monday. According to league executive sources, the No. 3 overall pick is the most likely target.
That belongs to the Arizona Cardinals, who have invested heavily in quarterback Kyler Murray, the top pick in the 2019 draft, at $230.5 million over five years.
The Chicago Bears have the top pick this year and are open to trading after already having Justin Fields, who was the 11th pick in the 2021 draft. To get to No. 1, the Panthers would have to give up more than they likely would general manager Scott Fetterer would like, but if there’s a time to do it, this is it.
“Go get the guy you want, you know,” Fitterer said at the combine. “If you believe in a guy, go get him. It’s as simple as that. You’re going to give all those resources to go up and get him, you’re hurting your team in the long run.”
More on that later.
The Houston Texans, also in the market for a quarterback, are unlikely to trade down on the second pick. If nothing else, the Texans could trade up to No. 1 to ensure they get their man.
So No. 3 makes sense for Carolina, especially with the Indianapolis Colts at No. 4, the Raiders at No. 7 and the Atlanta Falcons at No. 8 in need of a quarterback. Even the No. 5 Seattle Seahawks could be looking for a long-term solution at quarterback despite giving Geno Smith a new three-year, $105 million deal.
No. 3 also makes sense because the Panthers would have a shot at Young, Stroud or Levis.
But to trade any of the top quarterbacks will be costly in terms of draft picks and perhaps players. The fact that so many top-10 teams are looking for a quarterback has driven the price even higher than in previous years, according to sources in Indianapolis.
One way to get a snapshot of what it will cost Carolina is the “Draft Pick Trade Value Chart,” devised by former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson in the early 1990s.
Johnson assigned a numerical number to each draft position. The top pick, for example, is worth 3,000 points. The ninth pick is worth 1,350.
To make up the difference — and because future first-rounders are discounted to the 32nd pick or even a second-round pick, depending on the team — it takes a lot. In that case, Chicago would like the No. 9 pick, two future No. 1 picks and other picks to cover the 1,650-point gap.
Hedging options are not considered because this system was invented before they were used. Thus, the additional second-round (No. 61), third-round (No. 93) and fourth-round (No. 132) picks acquired during the trades Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers during the 2022 season will not be considered.
That’s not to say the Panthers wouldn’t consider such a trade. If they fall in love with Young, who many project as the top quarterback, it’s possible.
Young’s size (5-foot-10) is his only real drawback.
“The poise, the competitiveness, the ability to work and see the field,” Fitterer said when asked what makes Young special. “The guy never looks stressed when he’s in the pocket. And then you meet him in person and he’s like cool.”
If the Panthers want Stroud (6-foot-3, 204 pounds), it may take the top pick to ensure they get him.
The same goes for Levis, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has as his top quarterback because of his prototypical size (6-foot-3, 231 pounds) and self-proclaimed “cannon” of an arm. Panthers coach Frank Reich praised the 23-year-old at the combine, despite an underwhelming 2022 season plagued by injuries and poor protection.
“Super talented, and obviously he’s got the big arm, the big size, he’s got good experience, he’s done a lot with unique circumstances … changing coordinators, playing at Kentucky,” Reich said.
Carolina could likely take Levis at No. 3, and if not, they’ll pick who stays in the top three. And for less compensation than rising to No. 1.
The No. 3 pick is valued at 2,200 points. So to make up the 850-point gap from No. 9, Carolina would have to give up the ninth pick, a future champion and possibly another or more.
In 2021, the 49ers traded up to No. 3 in a deal that sent the Miami Dolphins the 12th pick, a third-round pick and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.
The danger is if this quarterback doesn’t make it. The Panthers were able to acquire Sam Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft from the New York Jets, in 2021 after Darnold went 13-25 in his first three seasons.
New York sent a first-round pick (No. 6) and two 2018 second-round picks, plus a 2019 second-round pick to Indianapolis to move up for the former USC star.
Carolina was able to acquire Baker Mayfield, the top pick in the 2018 draft from the Cleveland Browns, for next to nothing in 2022 after Mayfield went 29-30 in his first three seasons.
According to a 2021 ESPN story leading up to that year’s draft, there have been 25 trades for a quarterback that involved nothing but draft picks in the previous 20 years. According to ESPN’s draft valuations, all 25 overpaid to move up, and six of the previous 12 at the time paid the equivalent of a first-round pick.
There are also success stories that show such moves are worthwhile regardless of the cost. In 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs sent their first-round pick (No. 27), a third-round pick and a 2018 first-round pick to Buffalo for the No. 10 overall pick. They selected Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes has a 75-19 record (including playoffs), two Super Bowl MVPs and five Pro Bowl selections.
It’s what teams hope for.
The Panthers could also keep all their draft picks and stay at No. 9 to select Richardson, who has been compared to QB Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Carolina.
Placing an offer sheet on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is not an option for Carolina. Remember, the Panthers moved out of the Deshaun Watson draft because Watson wanted his entire five-year, $230 million contract guaranteed. Jackson is seeking a similar guaranteed deal.
“You better be right,” Fitterer said of moving up in the draft. “You better have faith if you go up. When you do that, you’re all in.”