The Panthers do not view Sam Darnold as the problem.
Darnold “will be back” in Carolina next season, general manager Scott Fitterer said Monday, not yet committing to the former Jet as the franchise quarterback, but saying he is open to the label.
“When we protect him and he gets the ball out quick,” Fitterer told reporters, “he looks like a good NFL quarterback.”
Darnold, who was flipped for three draft picks last April after three seasons, in which the Jets were not sure if he was The Guy, again was perplexing with the Panthers.
Darnold was solid, looking like a perfectly fine NFL game-manager, during a three-game win streak to open the season. He did not play a good game past Week 4, though, and he suffered a fractured scapula during a Week 9 loss to the Patriots. The 24-year-old missed six weeks and returned to a Panthers team that had sunk without him.
In all, Darnold’s 71.9 quarterback rating was the second-worst among the qualified in the NFL — besting only the quarterback who replaced him with the Jets, Zach Wilson.
“I think Sam’s still developing. We have to help him,” Fitterer said after a 5-12 campaign, in which offensive coordinator Joe Brady was fired midseason. “Everybody looks at the quarterback position as the individual. There are so many other factors that go into it — the receivers, the offensive line.
“He had a lot of leakage. He had a lot of pressure in his face. And it’s tough to play the position no matter who you are if there’s pressure in your face.”
Darnold is the only quarterback under contract for the Panthers, who guaranteed his $18.9 million option for next season upon trading for him. It would be difficult for the team to offload him at this point.
Fitterer said they are open to adding more quarterback competition, so he would not guarantee Darnold has the job. But he will have a roster spot.
“He’s still developing,” Fitterer said. “He’s still a young quarterback.”