Panthers' Derek Carr, Bryce Young decision could alter Bears' plans

Carr or Young? Panthers' QB decision could alter Bears' plan originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

INDIANAPOLIS -- Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer has been open that his "ideal" quarterback situation is to "draft and develop," preferably with a high pick in the first round.

"There's so many benefits to drafting and developing," Fitterer told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That is the right route to go. We'll see if we can get in a position where we get one of the guys we like. s there a guy in the second round? Can we get up in the first round? Those are all the things we're exploring right now."

The Panthers currently sit at No. 9 in the 2023 NFL Draft and appear to be s potential trade partner for the Bears if general manager Ryan Poles is comfortable moving down eight spots.

However, Derek Carr could soon throw a wrench into the works.

The Panthers met with Carr on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. The veteran quarterback is believed to be choosing between the Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and New York Jets.

Carolina has played the veteran quarterback roulette in the past and failed miserably. But Carr is on a different level than Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Teddy Bridgewater.

"Derek is an excellent leader," new Panthers head coach Frank Reich said Wednesday. "He's an excellent passer. He's very accomplished. You look at the fit, you know, how does it fit with our team in our locker room? He checks a lot of boxes that you're looking for in a quarterback. There's no question. And that's why he is where he's he is at this point in his career. And, you know, the opportunity it's a unique opportunity to talk to someone of that caliber as a player and as a person. So we didn't take that for granted."

Reich knows the pitfalls of jumping on the veteran quarterback carousel hoping to strike gold. Reich tried and failed to find the right veteran fit during his time with the Colts. Philip Rivers was solid in his one season in Indianapolis but fell short in the playoffs. The failed experiments with Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan marred the following two seasons.

That experience in Indianapolis will help shape how Reich attacks the quarterback market this offseason.

"You learn from those, but then you get to every year and you have to every year is an independent year from the previous you take that experience from it and now into a different organization and you obviously always want stability at quarterback," Reich said. "I think that's a huge lesson learned for me for the first from the last time around, you know, what is our best answer for stability of quarterbacks in the near term and long term future?"

That stability could come in the form of Bryce Young, the Alabama star who is expected to be the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Bringing Young to Carolina would require a trade with the Bears. One that likely will cost a pretty penny.

But Young might be worth it.

"You know, highly intelligent, very fast processor, very poised, accurate passer you know playmaker," Reich said of Young, who the Panthers met with at the combine. "He checks he checks a lot of boxes. I mean, you know no moments too big for him very, very very good player Seems like a great young man. Very impressive."

"He's a special guy," Fitterer echoed later about Young.

The question now for the Panthers becomes: Is Young the right fit to be their long-term solution? Or might they be better served going with Carr in a wide-open NFC South?

Reich is looking at both the Panthers' short- and long-term future. Carr is only 32, so he might be ideal for a team with the talent to take hold of its division. But passing on Young could be a gamble that sets the franchise back a decade.

"I don't think you can make that decision, you know, based on, hey, the status of that division right now," Reich said. "Whatever decision we make is, you know, what is best not just for this year, but you're looking on the horizon. You know, obviously, if you draft a guy, you're looking at a very long term horizon. If you go free agent, that would go Derek Carr. I mean, the nice thing with Derek is, you know, he's going to be 32. Those are kind of prime quarterback years. So there's still a good five year window, you know, is still a good five year window there. So, sure, we want to we're like every team. We want to win that division next year. But you really have to look beyond that as well."

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As many as four quarterbacks could go in Round 1, with Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson possibly rising as the pre-draft process ramps up.

The Panthers could, in theory, wait to see if a guy they like falls in their lap at No. 9. Fitterer made it clear that the Panthers will only trade up to grab a quarterback if they have no doubt that's the guy they want to lead them.

"You go get the guy that you want," Fitterer said about the advantages of trading up. "If you have conviction on a guy, you go get him. It's pretty simple that way. If you don't know and you're going to give all these resources to go up and get it, you're hurting your team in the long run. You better be right. You better have conviction if you do move up. But when you do do that, you're all-in."

The Bears want the Panthers to be all-in. The more teams clamoring to move up, the better the deal Poles can strike.

This week at the NFL Scouting Combine has been all about those potential trade targets trying to cool their interest in moving up. Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio said he'll have a group of three or four players he'll be comfortable drafting at No. 2.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard said he's not sure he can't get the quarterback he wants by sticking at No. 4.

The Bears, meanwhile, have a calculus to make of their own. Poles has to decide how far he's willing to move down and for what price. That will be dictated by how the Bears view the draft board.

"It just depends how far back," Poles said when asked if trading the No. 1 pick was the ideal outcome Tuesday. "But yeah, we need a lot, and that gives us more opportunity to bring in more players. It’s a good situation to be in for where our club is. But at the same time, when I talk about where guys are on the draft chart, if we have someone that is so high and in a special category that says, you know what, this guy is going to affect our team both from a culture standpoint and also from a gameday standpoint, then that might be the best thing to do as well."

The trade talk surrounding the No. 1 pick will heat up after this week. This is the week when feelers are put out, interest is crystalized, and the players make themselves known.

The Panthers' interest in Carr is real. How that dance plays out will determine if the Panthers put both feet in the ring for the No. 1 pick or remove themselves entirely from the equation.

At the moment, the Colts and Texans seem like the Bears' most likely trade partners. But don't sleep on Reich and the Panthers. The NFC South is there for the taking, and Reich understands how important it is to have the right quarterback in place.

In the end, Reich's past experience, owner David Tepper's desire to win at all costs, and Carolina's quarterback desperation might make them the most optimal target for the Bears.

But they have to say no to Carr first.

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