Who are the best options at quarterback for new Panthers coach Frank Reich?
At each of his five NFL stops, new Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich has implemented a diverse offensive scheme that is friendly towards the quarterback.
Reich’s scheme can be described in one word: multiple. His offense uses a diverse set of formations, packages, and philosophies to keep defenses guessing. Reich pulls from a background of wide-ranging offensive experiences in his 30-plus years as a player and coach. Such diversity will bode well in the Panthers’ search for their next quarterback.
From free agency to the draft to a longshot trade, there are several approaches Reich, general manager Scott Fitterer and owner David Tepper can take to free Carolina from quarterback purgatory. As Fitterer has repeatedly stressed the importance of Cthe Panthers drafting and developing a quarterback, we’ll start there before exploring veteran options.
Draft and develop options
Bryce Young, Alabama
Cost: No. 1 overall pick
Bryce Young remains the consensus No. 1 overall draft selection following consecutive standout seasons at Alabama. Young won the Heisman as a sophomore and was equally impressive as a junior.
Moving up to No. 1 overall will cost Carolina a lot of capital. The Bears are likely looking for packages that include multiple first-round picks and several mid-round selections. The Panthers have first-round picks in 2023, 2024, and 2025 (and beyond, but teams are only allowed to trade picks within three years of a current draft cycle). Carolina also could offer a package of mid-round picks it acquired via the Christian McCaffrey trade.
Is Young a fit for Reich?
Young will be a fit for any coach. Evaluators consider Young a franchise cornerstone. He has the charisma and competence needed to thrive on the field. He plays in a way that uplifts his teammates as no moment is too large. As with all elite quarterbacks, there is not a throw he cannot make.
Size is the only universal concern surrounding the 6-foot, 195-pound Young as a prospect. Every evaluator and scout mentions his slight frame. However, most agree his height does not hinder his in-pocket command or vision.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Cost: Top 2 pick
Stroud, meanwhile, has the size that teams covet. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Stroud’s combination of size and arm talent make him a consensus top 2 pick. Like Young, Carolina will have to package multiple first-round and mid-round selections to move up for Stroud.
Is Stroud a fit for Reich?
Reich would be a sound match for Stroud by tailoring a diverse offense filled with quarterback-friendly options and a supportive running game.
Before the Peach Bowl this season, Stroud was considered a pocket passer who preferred playing on script. All year, evaluators were waiting for Stroud to showcase his mobility to either create new throwing lanes or scramble. He successfully did both against Georgia in the College Football Playoff, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the nation’s top-ranked defense.
Will Levis, Kentucky
Cost: Top 5 pick
As The Observer reported in November, Kentucky’s Will Levis is well on the Panthers’ radar. It’s still early in the evaluation process but Levis is consistently being mocked at No. 4 to the Colts. Some mock drafts, however, predict he’ll be selected No. 1 overall.
Trading up for Levis would cost similar to what targeting Young or Stroud would run.
Is Levis a fit for Reich?
Levis fits the big-bodied, strong-arm quarterback Reich had in Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz. However, Levis is a very different prospect than Luck and Wentz. He finished last season with 2,406 passing yards (65.4% completion percentage) with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games.
As the Panthers gain intel on quarterback prospects, learning why Levis threw nearly one interception per game will be pivotal. He also had two games with multiple interceptions, including three against Tennessee. Figuring out what went wrong for Levis in big games and why he is skipping the Senior Bowl are other important questions that must be asked before deciding whether Levis is a fit in Carolina.
Anthony Richardson, Florida
Cost: Top 15 pick
Anthony Richardson’s draft stock will only keep rising as the offseason continues. He’s a blend of freakish athleticism with explosive arm talent. Richardson is considered the least pro-ready of the top four college quarterbacks, but several evaluators believe he has the highest ceiling of the 2023 quarterback class.
Of the top four quarterbacks, Richardson is likely the only one who would be available at No. 9.
Is Richardson a fit for Reich?
Luck aside, Reich hasn’t coached a quarterback with Richardson’s athleticism. Grooming him would be a delicate task. Many evaluators believe paring Richardson with a veteran quarterback would be best for his long-term development, which is a plan Reich and Carolina could pursue.
Bridge quarterbacks and veteran options
Sam Darnold, free agent
Cost: Two years, $10.2 million (projection via Spotrac)
Darnold makes sense to retain. He played well during the final six games of the season. He won four games and posted season-high passing totals in three consecutive contests from Week 15 to 17. During his first four games, Darnold did not commit a turnover yet still showcased his pocket escapability and athleticism. Carolina won three of those four games.
It looked like Darnold was en route to a double-digit annual payday until Week 17 in Tampa Bay when he lost a fumble and threw an interception in a must-win game. The following week Darnold posted career lows in passing yards (43) and quarterback rating (2.8) despite a Carolina win in New Orleans.
Is Darnold a fit for Reich?
Thanks to an inconsistent end to his fifth season, Carolina should be able to afford Darnold if Reich wants him to return as a veteran presence in what should be a young quarterback room.
Derek Carr, Raiders
Cost: $34.87 cap hit according to Spotrac
The Raiders are trying to trade Derek Carr as soon as possible. Carr has a no-trade clause and a trigger in his contract that will guarantee his $40.4 million salary three days after the Super Bowl (Feb. 15). If the Raiders can’t find a deal by the deadline, they’ll need to cut Carr, who will then become a free agent.
Waiting until Carr is a free agent would ensure Carolina a much more affordable price tag.
Is Carr a fit for Reich?
Carr is the type of quarterback Reich and the Panthers would have independently pursued before their partnership. Carolina has been spraying the quarterback dart board with random tries since cutting Cam Newton in 2020. Reich started five different Week 1 quarterbacks in five consecutive seasons following Luck’s 2019 retirement.
Carr had a career season two years ago but regressed under Josh McDaniels. He was benched in Week 17 of this season and will not return to Las Vegas. However, Reich and Carolina both want to avoid the retread option. Carr would benefit from joining Reich more than the Panthers would profit from acquiring Carr.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Cost: Too much
Depending on the day, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens either are heading for a divorce or nearing a long-term extension. As both sides jockey for leverage during the offseason, reports suggest quarterback-needy teams could try to acquire Jackson via trade.
Is Jackson a fit for Reich?
Similar to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, pursuing an expensive veteran quarterback does not make sense for Reich and the Panthers. While Jackson offers far more long-term vision than Rodgers or Brady, all three are expensive and bring a specific offensive style with them that Reich would not have as much influence over compared to that of a malleable rookie.