The Carolina Panthers find themselves in a familiar position today, in the midst of another freefall toward NFL oblivion.
The temptation is to grasp at anything now, no matter whether it resembles a parachute or not. You get blasted 25-3 by the woeful New York Giants for your fourth consecutive loss, as the Panthers did Sunday, and you’re ready to try just about anything.
But please, Panthers, don’t try this one thing.
Don’t trade for Deshaun Watson.
Given how awful the Panthers (3-4) looked Sunday on offense — it was so bad that Darnold got benched in the fourth quarter — Watson looks tempting again. The Panthers tried hard to engage with the Houston Texans in the spring and get them to trade Watson to Carolina for a package of draft picks and players. Panthers owner David Tepper, in particular, was in love with the idea, according to league sources.
At the time, I also thought that was an excellent idea. But that was before Watson had more than 20 civil lawsuits filed against him, accusing the former Clemson star of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Through his attorney, Watson has denied any wrongdoing.
Watson rightly hasn’t played for Houston all season because of his legal issues, and there’s no reason to think that would change if he came to Carolina.
The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 2. Various recent reports have said that the Texans — now quite willing to trade Watson somewhere after not even returning the Panthers’ phone calls the first time around — have spoken with Miami, Philadelphia and Carolina about Watson’s availability.
Most reports have speculated that Miami is the most serious suitor, and it’s worth noting Watson has a no-trade clause and must approve any potential destination. It’s also absolutely true that high-ranking Panther officials are internally debating the Watson conundrum again.
If Watson was traded to anybody by Nov. 2, I’d expect the NFL would step in and declare that Watson was on one of those “lists” like the one that former Panther Greg Hardy found himself on in 2014 — the kind of list that makes sure you don’t play until your legal dispute and the various investigations into Watson’s behavior with women are settled.
In pragmatic terms, I could see Watson’s legal issues taking a season or two to resolve.
More importantly, in human terms, it’s not the right move for the Panthers.
With all of those outstanding accusations, is that really the message your organization should be sending? A win-at-all-costs, damn-the-torpedoes course of action?
It shouldn’t be.
The Panthers aren’t just a football team. They are an idea for a community to rally around, as well as a team that gladly takes North Carolina tax dollars with the idea that they’re going to give us all something in return we can be proud of.
I wouldn’t be proud of Watson as the Panthers QB. I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter, and I don’t want to explain what Watson allegedly did to all those massage therapists to her. Trading for Watson doesn’t make sense to me, on any level.
Now does that mean Sam Darnold should stay as the Panthers quarterback for the long term? Obviously, it does not. The Panthers may well be hunting for a new quarterback in the offseason for the third time in three years in 2022 with Darnold having put Carolina in a similar position what Teddy Bridgewater did.
Darnold looked lost in his old stadium Sunday, haunted again by those old ghosts of MetLife that he used to see with the New York Jets.
The Giants roughed up his offensive line as usual, but Darnold also just held-held-held the ball. Or he made easy passes look hard. Or he didn’t run when he could and should have.
“I think when you get to that point of getting pulled — I just internalize it,” Darnold said afterward. “Honestly, it’s one of those situations where it is what it is.”
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said after the game that Darnold would continue to be the team’s starter in the next contest, Oct. 31 at Atlanta.
Darnold now has eight turnovers in the past four games — seven interceptions and a fumble. Without Christian McCaffrey — who has missed the past four games — to paper over Darnold’s issues, he doesn’t look like he can get it done.
The Panthers passed up on QBs Justin Fields and Mac Jones in April’s draft, and that now seems like a mistake. If you don’t have the QB position solved, the rest of it almost doesn’t matter in the NFL. Carolina’s best chance at figuring the QB position out is probably the first round of the 2022 draft at this point.
Darnold absolutely should have been pulled Sunday, and I would have done it at halftime. Then again, backup quarterback PJ Walker didn’t acquit himself well, either. Darnold was 11-of-16 passing for 125 yards and an interception, with three points in nine possessions; Walker was 3 of 14 for 33 yards, with zero points in three possessions. Both QBs were sacked three times as the Panthers (3-4) made the Giants’ defense — and remember, the Giants were 1-5 coming into this game — look like the 1985 Bears.
“If we don’t become a tough team soon then we have to make some serious changes,” said Rhule, now 8-15 through 23 games as Carolina’s head coach.
And, Rhule added: “Losing like this has to infuriate and upset us … I don’t know that we’ve had that urgency that we need.”
All that’s fine.
Act like your jobs depend upon turning the ship around, because they do. Become a tougher team. Make all the serious changes you want, including at QB.
But don’t saddle this team with Deshaun Watson.
The Panthers have enough problems already.