The Carolina Panthers are keeping their options open at the quarterback position, and I could see this dragging into next week — well after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft — where the team ultimately ends up with 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said Tuesday he's informed Sam Darnold there's "a pretty good chance" the team could add a QB during the draft weekend. It's certainly possible the Panthers find themselves stuck at No. 6 overall with the top-three offensive tackles off the board and Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett staring them in the face.
The Panthers would love to trade down, but so would just about everyone in the top-12 to 15 of this year's draft. Failing to find a partner, Carolina can scoop the best available left tackle, let the draft conclude and market settle, then trade for Garoppolo.
As we near the draft, the smoke coming out of Charlotte is the Panthers aren't interested in trading for Baker Mayfield. I don't get the impression anyone in Charlotte is pressed to bring Mayfield on right now (he was never getting traded before the draft), and I don't believe the Panthers view him as a personality fit in the locker room over Garoppolo.
Now, Mayfield is the cheaper and healthier option. But the Niners would have to eat some of Garoppolo's salary (like the Browns would have to with Mayfield), and the Panthers would be fine at the position until Garoppolo returns to health during training camp.
Carolina would love it if the top-three edge rushers and top-two corners flew off the board to start the draft, allowing them more flexibility to trade back and still collect an offensive tackle. The Panthers don't pick again until No. 137, and there's an unwillingness (for now) to sell future draft picks to get a second-rounder this year.
Here are the rest of my pre-draft notes in what is sure to be an unpredictable draft.
Jaguars on the clock
The betting markets seem convinced the Jags will take Travon Walker No. 1 overall. I and the rest of the league wish we could be as confident. I've heard team owner Shad Khan is leaning toward Aidan Hutchinson. And GM Trent Baalke seems to be infatuated with Walker. Offensive tackle has an outside chance of happening even with the three-year deal with Cam Robinson.
Texans leaning defense
There's a ton of smoke around Houston and Derek Stingley Jr. For what it's worth, I'm told Lovie Smith is — pardon the pun — in love with Walker at No. 3. But it's Nick Caserio's decision to make here. I'd think getting a versatile player like Walker who can line up in different positions no matter what the head coach's scheme is would help the Texans more.
Falcons looking to fill need
There's no position group where the Falcons can't reasonably add this draft. But if the board breaks where the top tackles and pass rushers are gone, I think Atlanta would be comfortable trading back into the teens and collecting a wide receiver.
The Falcons desperately need help at wideout, and they can't get anything for Calvin Ridley until next year when they can deal him to the highest bidder next March.
Atlanta has strong interest in USC WR Drake London, though. I'm not sure he'll be available after the Washington Commanders pick at No. 11.
Eagles looking to move up
To no one's surprise, Eagles GM Howie Roseman is waiting in the weeds for a potential trade up. I'm told he's talked to teams in the top-10 but that no substantive offers or parameters have been discussed.
If he trades up, the opinion is that it'll be for Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton or his top wide-receiver.
Carolina at six, Atlanta at eight and Seattle at nine would seemingly be the targets. Philly showed last year they're willing to trade first-round picks in the NFC East, but I'm not sure that's what first-year GM Joe Schoen will want to do at seven.
It benefits Roseman to wait right now. If the board doesn't fall in favor of Carolina, Atlanta or Seattle, he can pounce with a take-it-or-leave-it offer to slide up.
More draft-related news
I don't believe Deebo Samuel is going anywhere this weekend. The Niners aren't panicking because he very clearly wants out. To them, Samuel is following a formula laid out by many players on rookie contracts: delete team references from social media, request a trade, never publicly say why you want out, engineer public leverage since it's the only leverage you can get on a rookie deal. The 49ers have known for 13 months they wouldn't be picking in the first round. Looking at their top-30 visits, you could generously say they've had three potential first-rounders in their building this spring. Trading Samuel now makes sense only when looking at assuring you get understood value — like the 10th overall pick — in return. But if you haven't done the necessary homework, you put yourself in a disadvantaged position. Samuel's trade request has given us all clicks and plenty to talk about, and I expect it will into July and August, too. ... Don't be surprised when Georgia LB Quay Walker is the first linebacker taken in this year's draft. "He'll go higher than a lot of folks think," one league source told me. Walker over Devin Lloyd for the first LB off the board would count as an upset. ... The Giants had gotten calls from at least two teams before the news broke Friday that they were shopping WR Kadarius Toney. But, as I understood it, the G-Men weren't actually shopping Toney. Schoen should absolutely listen to any and all offers that come his way, especially for a player many teams had off their board last year who hasn't been able to be on the field much for his team. Color me surprised if Toney isn't still a Giant by the end of the weekend. But James Bradberry? He's a guy who could be moved Friday. NFL teams will soon realize after Thursday that sending a second or third-rounder to New York for Bradberry and his contract is a better proposition than using that pick on an unproven rookie. The Giants have picks No. 36, 67 and 81 on Day 2 and could add one more in the best-value day of the draft by shipping Bradberry. ... There's an interesting dilemma for Jets GM Joe Douglas with his two picks in the top-10. We know the Jets need a corner, EDGE rusher and maybe — perhaps — an offensive lineman. But taking a tackle with either pick No. 4 or 10 would be a tacit admission that he missed on Mekhi Becton two years ago. That's a difficult admission to make when the seat may feel warm. ... Everyone wants to trade back. Don't be surprised if these teams take nearly all of their allotted 10 minutes to make the pick. It won't be because teams are waffling over who to take, though. They'll just be fielding — and potentially still making — calls to deal back when they're on the clock. ... There's a feeling in Pittsburgh like Kenny Pickett won't be available at No. 20. He may not be. But I struggle with believing outgoing GM Kevin Colbert is going to mortgage the future pick(s) of his successor to move up and get Pickett. If he's there at 20, I still think he's the guy. ... If I could have one takeback from last week's mock, it'd be my mock trade-up for the Chicago Bears. I wanted to find a trade up for a team without a first-round pick, and I felt my reasoning to send Chicago to No. 30 made sense. ... But the Bears only have six picks in this year's draft and need bodies. Trading up nine spots to get a wide receiver isn't a good value decision. They'd be left with four picks and maybe a marginally better receiver. But as we know the internet is forever so I can't possibly retract it.