The Carolina Panthers are less than a year removed from signing Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal. But after a 5-11 finish, which saw the quarterback lose nine of his last 10 starts and end Week 17 on the bench, coach Matt Rhule isn't ruling out the possibility of the Panthers pursuing another signal-caller in 2021. Addressing reporters Monday, Rhule made it clear he still believes in Bridgewater's potential, but he also did not mince words when critiquing the QB's Panthers debut, acknowledging Carolina could draft another QB and saying Bridgewater himself needs a "tremendous offseason."
"I think Teddy played well early on in the season," Rhule explained. "I thought the middle part of the season, we still showed flashes of that. I'd say, really, the last month of the season, both offensively, I don't know that we've played real well, and I don't think Teddy's played his best football. I personally feel like ever since he got hurt in the second half of the Tampa Bay game, Teddy hasn't played his best ball.
"So for us, we have to evaluate our total offense -- the players, the schemes -- at every position, including Teddy. Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason. Part of being a quarterback in this league is being able to withstand the physical toll of the season and playing your best football at the end of the year. I don't know that I've seen that from him, and so my encouragement to him has been, 'Hey, you need to have a great offseason."
Bridgewater's numbers paint the discouraging picture Rhule is referencing: Despite a solid start in Carolina, where he helped the Panthers start 3-2 with a QB rating of at least 98 in four of his first five starts, the ex-Minnesota Vikings starter and New Orleans Saints backup stumbled down the stretch, throwing just two touchdowns and four interceptions over his final five games.
"Teddy's here, (and) I have a lot of respect in him," Rhule added. "I believe in what he can do. (But) we'll look at every opportunity to have the best that we can have at every position, and that includes the quarterback position."
Despite just signing Bridgewater in 2019, Carolina can actually save $3 million by trading or outright releasing the QB this offseason. It's also possible he returns to compete for the team's starting job. The Panthers own the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft and could look to target one of this year's top QB prospects.