Before we start, this is not a pro-TB5 thread. anti-Tepper thread, nor is it a thread proposing that our record would be any better with him this season. This is a reflection on what the team has missed out on this season, and will miss out on next season due to the decision(s).
When David Tepper made less-than-supportive comments about Teddy Bridgewater last season, it was a matter of when rather than if the QB would be moved on from after the season ended. It also signaled that the owner would very much be involved in approving the talent on the Panthers' roster in spite of insisting that he was leaving the decision making up to his GM and head coach. This put pressure on rookie GM Scott Fitterer to appease his boss, and low and behold Matt Rhule was there to make a recommendation. While "scouting an NYJ defensive player" (presumably Frankie Luvu), Sam Darnold's "playmaking ability jumped out."
I'm wondering what about Pat Elflein jumped out as well.
When looking at Teddy Bridgewater's play, one thing lacked above all: a killer instinct, the desire to hang in there and make a play happen rather than bailing out to live another day. That safe approach works when a QB can challenge a defense to open up, but with Joe Brady's uninspired play design + play calling, Teddy's midseason knee injury, and Teddy's tendency to never go big but just go home drove a notable risk-taker like David Tepper absolutely bonkers. While scouting defensive free agents, the staff saw in Darnold a guy that was willing to be that gunslinger that Tepper wanted.
Fitterer got to work on making a deal, offering a 2021 6th, as well as a 2022 2nd + 4th to acquire Sam Darnold from the Jets. Not only that, the team believed so much in Sam as well as their ability to coach him up that they took the 5th year bonus option on his rookie contract, guaranteeing him $18M next season. Fast forward to now, and Sam Darnold is on the IR with an incomplete scapula fracture. That isn't the real story though; the real story is that Sam regressed so bad that it left the staff with no other option should they were to compete right away like the boss wanted: they needed to get a starting QB in free agency somehow just passed the middle of the season.
Enter Cam Newton.
With cap space already tight, the Panthers organization went out of their way to mend their relationship with the former franchise QB. Cam got himself a story book return, but things didn't just come tumbling back down to earth... they plummeted in a fiery ball of disappointment and sadness. All of the Panthers' weaknesses reared their fugly heads the following week, and once again the coaching staff failed to find a way to counter the counter. While the team is still mathematically in the playoff hunt, they're going to have to try for it without veteran starting CB Donte Jackson (who is designated for free agency) and superstar RB Christian McCaffrey (who is set to jump from the 5th highest paid RB @ $6.9M to the 4th highest paid RB @ $14.3M in 2022). They'll have Cam though, who will get the Bye week to try and get more familiar with Joe Brady's offense that seems to have been figured out by opposing defensive coordinators. The staff clearly believes that this team can get to the playoffs with Cam, as they're giving him $4.5M with incentives (up to $1.5M for being active every game, $500k per playoff win where he plays 50% of the snaps (up to $1.5M), $1.5M to take 50% of the Super Bowl snaps, and $1M if named the Super Bowl MVP) to play just a third of the season to get the team there. But Cam alone isn't enough to cover up a porous OL, inexperienced OC, and butter-fingered WRs. So now, here we are: mathematically still in the playoffs, but the odds are showing that we're likely planning for next year making the "win now" investments sunk costs.
When we start to look at all of the bad decisions, it gets overwhelming. So let's take a look at the first decision this offseason that really set the team back: moving on from Bridgewater. Would this team be much better with Teddy? Doubtful. Despite being backed by the current #3 defense, an average OL, weapons, and a steady run game... Denver only has 6 (7 if they beat the Chiefs tomorrow) wins compared to Carolina's 5. But what would the team have this season had they followed through with Teddy being a bridge QB after showing that he wasn't a franchise QB? Let's first take a look at what this team has now invested in the QB position this season and next already:
2021: $17M dead cap for Teddy
2021: $4.7M salary for Sam
2021: $6M-$10M for Cam
2021: 6th round pick
2022: 2nd round pick
2022: 4th round pick
2022: $18.86M for Sam
This totals out to $46.56M - $51.56M in cap space as well as a 2nd, 4th, and 6th round draft picks. Having stayed the course with Teddy would likely have us looking at a similar shittacular season to what we're having now, but the team would also have so much more to work with going forward. That $21M folks were bemoaning paying Teddy? Now the team is spending $6M more this season to potentially limp to a pick in the early teens, which is about where fans said Bridgewater would leave us in purgatory at. The painful irony though? That compensatory 6th round pick that we traded last season for Sam? You know... that day 3 pick that didn't seem like much? Welp... the Kansas City Chiefs ended up acquiring it when they manufactured a trade with the Jets where they swapped picks in the 5th and 6th rounds. This allowed KC to move up in the 5th from #175 to #162 to select Noah Gray out of Duke, and then slide back in the 6th from #205 to where the Panthers would have selected at #226. That selection for the Chiefs? ...Trey mother fuging Smith.
Now the Panthers have nearly $19M committed to Sam Darnold when they need to find a way to retain Haason Reddick, Frankie Luvu, Stephon Gilmore, and/or Donte Jackson. They are without a top 50 and top 115 picks in the upcoming draft as well. For perspective... the #50 pick recently was Azeez Ojulari and the #115 pick was Jabril Cox. Both players have looked solid for their respective teams. Could you imagine looking at a team next year with an OL consisting of Christensen-Smith-Linderbaum-Brown-Moton and a 2nd + 4th in the 2022 draft?
Ooh wee mayne.
tldr; if the team rode out the original Bridgewater stopgap plan, they could have had:
$6-10M extra cap space for 2021
Nearly $19M ($40M if Teddy is cut) extra cap space in 2022
2022 2nd round pick (currently projected to be a top 50 pick (2021 #50: Azeez Ojulari))
2022 4th round pick (currently projected to be a top 115 pick (2021 #115: Jabril Cox))
But still no QB