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As the Carolina Panthers spin the quarterback carousel yet again, trying one more time to find a fix in the post-Cam era, one thing has become clear:
It’s time to trade Teddy Bridgewater.
For Bridgewater and for the Panthers, this is what easily makes the most sense. It will help get the Panthers a ticket out of salary-cap jail, because another team could absorb part of Bridgewater’s massive $63-million contract — which, after being signed with much hoopla only a year ago, now looks like a massive mistake.
And it would help Bridgewater, who has to be hurt by the way the Panthers have tried so diligently to replace him as their starting QB this offseason.
Carolina finally did so with a trade for New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold last week, giving up three draft picks to acquire the former Southern Cal star. The Panthers were undeterred by the fact that Bridgewater’s overall stats were far better than Darnold’s in 2020, selling themselves on Darnold’s arm talent and the facts that he was the No. 3 overall draft choice in 2018 and is still only 23, with less of an injury history than Bridgewater.
And it’s hard to blame them for that because Bridgewater couldn’t win in the clutch, ever, last season (albeit without Christian McCaffrey and with an inconsistent offensive line).
I actually think the Darnold trade was weird enough that it will work out OK.
But what to do with Bridgewater? Ideally, that’s a trade, too.
You don’t want Bridgewater competing with Darnold for the No. 1 spot. There’s an old football saying with some truth to it that says: If you think you’ve got two quarterbacks, you really don’t have any.
Darnold should be the No. 1 entering training camp, and Carolina can bolster its iffy backup situation cheaply by drafting another QB later this month in the middle rounds.
The Panthers are quite obviously ready to move on from Bridgewater, though, and Bridgewater no doubt is ready to move on as well. If he’s going to be a backup somewhere — and that will surely be the case, whether it’s in Charlotte or elsewhere — he may as well be a backup for a better team with immediate Super Bowl aspirations.
The problem, of course, is money.
To cut Bridgewater outright doesn’t make financial sense for the Panthers because he would cost them as much as $20 million in dead money. To keep him doesn’t make sense, either. He’s a $23 million salary-cap hit if he’s on the roster unless he takes a pay cut, and he would probably be a backup unless Darnold gets hurt.
Far more palatable would be Bridgewater’s agents negotiating with another team, doing something creative with Bridgewater’s current contract and then telling the Panthers what they’ve found. That, in effect, is exactly what is going on right now.
“It’s been documented that our organization gave his (Bridgewater’s) representation permission to talk with some other people,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Monday. “So I think we’re just going to let that play out and see where it stands.”
Carolina would likely get no more than a sixth-round draft pick at best for Bridgewater in a trade, but that’s not the point. The point is not to have your salary cap hijacked. Quarterback is the game’s most significant role, and it’s not close, but no QB wins a game by himself. The Panthers made a whopper of a mistake with the original Bridgewater deal — and Rhule has to answer for his part in that, as does offensive coordinator Joe Brady due to his enthusiastic recommendation of the idea.
But you can get out from under the mistake, with a willing trade partner. Finding a trade partner is sort of like finding a reasonably priced house in Charlotte right now that doesn’t already have three offers in hand: Not easy.
Bridgewater is going to be a backup in 2021, and his contract is for starter money. So the Panthers may end up having to write a big check for some of Bridgewater’s guaranteed money to facilitate a trade. But that’s a price they should be willing to pay to end this experiment and move onward.
“Quarterback is an unbelievably important position,” Rhule said. “.... But I also believe that one man can’t do it alone. ... We’re trying to build a team. We’re trying to build an offense and a defense, and not mortgaging the future for one player.”
The first NFL quarterback I ever covered as a beat writer was Dan Marino. He was fantastic. He should have won at least one Super Bowl and maybe several. Instead, he only got to one and never won any, because Miami never could give him the defense and the running game he needed to make that happen.
The New York Giants, on the other hand, once won a Super Bowl with the forgettable Jeff Hostetler as their QB. That team was coached by one of Rhule’s heroes, Bill Parcells.
All that is to say that I don’t think Rhule wants to devote so many resources to QB as he would have to if both Darnold and Bridgewater stayed on the roster.
The Darnold trade was the Panthers basically making their decision as to who they want to start the season opener in September.
Now it’s time for the other shoe to drop: For everyone’s sake, it’s time to trade Bridgewater.