The Panthers shipped their former bridge quarterback to the Broncos, with both teams still looking for upgrades.
A quarterback who has logged significant starts in just one of the last five seasons changing hands for a sixth-round pick on the eve before the draft might barely register among the list of most intriguing subplots over the next 24 hours. Until you realize that Teddy Bridgewater’s moving to Denver might have told us a considerable amount about the behavior of at least two teams (and probably three) heading into one of the most uncertain quarterback drafts in recent memory.
On its surface, the deal makes a great deal of sense for Vic Fangio. The defensive mastermind, like so many coaches of his era and of his mindset, would covet a sensible, ball-control quarterback who is conducive to a play-action, run-first offense and rarely turns the ball over. Yes, Bridgewater threw 11 interceptions last year in a less-than-desirable situation (and as Pro Football Focus notes, was, along with Denver’s own Drew Lock, one of the quarterbacks who threw the most interceptions while under pressure), but for the majority of his career, he has been calculated, risk-averse and, for the most part, solid. General manager George Paton, at his previous stop in Minnesota (where he was part of the group that made Bridgewater a first-round pick in 2014), worked for a similar coach in Mike Zimmer and understands the sentiment.
But sadly for Bridgewater, his passage around the league is no longer for a team experimenting with the idea that he can be the long-term solution. Barring the kind of career break that could pave a second act for him, he has been cemented (unfairly, I might add, much in the Tyrod Taylor mold) as a quarterback who is great for the exact scenario that may be unfolding in Denver: draft another quarterback, allow him to see Bridgewater doing things the right way and processing the game at warp speed during practice, start the young quarterback, stash Bridgewater in case of a catastrophe.
If anything, acquiring Bridgewater is more telling of a team planning to draft a young quarterback than not. The Broncos would not be ridiculous to enter camp with Lock, Justin Fields (for example) and Bridgewater on the same roster. They’d be pragmatic. Lock can always net a small return trade chip for a team that suffered a training camp injury or is looking for a developmental spark off the bench. They would have been ridiculous to enter camp with just Fields and Lock, placing a rookie into a faux competition that was uncomfortable and provided no real instructive atmosphere for the quarterback.
Similarly, Carolina seems to have entered itself back into the quarterback fold. By getting rid of a sensible backup-slash-bridge plan, the Panthers have made Sam Darnold the sensible backup-slash-bridge plan. While there are reportedly plans for the team to pick up his fifth-year option, the Panthers have yet to do so, and could be waiting out the board on Thursday to see what falls into their laps. While this is not as comfortable a situation for a rookie, Carolina could bring in a player with the set-in-stone understanding that he will not play in 2021.
The Panthers have one of the greatest advantages in this draft, above and beyond other teams—Matt Rhule and Joe Brady’s recent college coaching experience that can overcome the scattershot 2020 season that produced untrustworthy film and, in some cases, complete absences from the field. This is the year to take advantage of it.
In some ways, the Patriots factor into all of this, too. Amid reports that they are locked in on Fields, NBC Boston noted that the reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo we were all expecting could be the most likely of scenarios. This makes sense as it becomes clear which teams are shedding and acquiring assets ahead of New England to make room for their own quarterbacks of the future. Perhaps an admission that Garoppolo and the Patriots are joining forces again is also an admission that more teams than we think want these quarterbacks and are unwilling to move out of their spots in the draft order to do so.
Not bad for a seemingly banal transaction on an otherwise quiet afternoon at the heart of smokescreen season.
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