The Panthers do not view the success of quarterback P.J. Walker last week as a spot starter to be a fluke of any sort, and they also believe the former XFL player has a bright future ahead. The Panthers beat out six other teams for the right to sign the passer after the demise of the XFL, league sources said, and coach Matt Rhule chose to play Walker in Week 11 even though starter Teddy Bridgewater was medically cleared to return.
Rhule opted to give Bridgewater another week to rest his knee because he was confident that Walker could fare well against the Lions, and he did not disappoint, moving the ball up and down the field all game and going 24-of-34 for 258 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Both picks were thrown deep down field, and while there are lessons to be learned, Walker flashed quality arm strength, confidence and poise in what could portend good things to come.
Rhule, who recruited Walker to Temple, has long been a champion of his, maintaining he is someone who could have a solid NFL career, and whether that projects as a back-up or starter remains to be seen. That relationship with Rhule, and some dogged recruiting by the Panthers' front office allowed them to land Walker in March when Arizona, New Orleans, Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle also had interest.
"This wasn't just some throwaway signing," said one source with knowledge of the situation. "Matt really believes this kid can play."
His athleticism helps Walker, 25, manipulate the pocket to compensate for less than ideal size, and the Panthers signed him to a multi-year deal, smartly, that would then set Walker up as an exclusive rights free agent in 2022 and a restricted free agent in 2023; should he emerge as a real starting option they are protected and he could also be used as a trade chip at some point if Bridgewater sees through his contract in Carolina.
The Panthers had their eye on Walker early in the offseason and were able to land a fifth-round pick for former starter Kyle Allen from Washington -- with his ties to Washington coach Ron Rivera from their time together in Carolina -- with an eye to Walker coming in as a backup. Getting anything for Allen was impressive amid the most constrained quarterback market ever (Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and countless other passers were available on the cheap), and the fifth-round pick they landed was used in a draft-day trade to move up and land safety Jeremy Chinn in the second round, who has been superb in his rookie season.