Sam Darnold’s play over the past four weeks of the season has not resembled that of a starting quarterback.
He has eight turnovers in four games and has completed less than 60% of his passes. That won’t win games in the NFL and it hasn’t. The Panthers are 0-4 in their past four games and are in last place in the NFC South.
But coach Matt Rhule has said Darnold will remain the starter.
“I feel really good about Sam,” Rhule said Wednesday. “Obviously, it wasn’t a good game this past game,” Rhule said. “When Sam or our team goes back and watches themselves versus the New Orleans Saints we see exactly what he is, was and can be.”
But if his struggles continue that could and likely should change, especially if they think they can salvage their playoff hopes.
A trade for Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson is off the table for now, per two sources with knowledge of the situation. And it should be, as Watson is still facing 22 different civil lawsuits from massage therapists alleging sexual assault and misconduct.
“I’m not worried about it,” Darnold said, when asked his thought on reports that the Panthers were interested in Watson. “I’m worried about doing my job every single day.”
The trade deadline is Nov. 2.
And while Watson is off the table, there are some realistic options:
Jimmy Garappolo, 49ers
Garappolo, 29, remains the 49ers’ starter, but he’s not the long-term answer. The 49ers took Trey Lance third overall in the draft, and though they want to ease the rookie in, perhaps the Panthers could convince the 49ers that trading Garappolo could be worthwhile.
Garappolo doesn’t have the biggest arm.
But he has been successful, and he was the quarterback of the 49ers team that lost in the Super Bowl to the Chiefs in 2020. So when he’s healthy and is surrounded with the right pieces, he can win.
In five games this season, Garappolo has thrown for 1,106 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also completing 64.8% of his passes.
The issue with a Garappolo is the money. He has a $26.4 million salary-cap number this season, though none of it is guaranteed.
Andy Dalton, Bears
Dalton, 33, started out the 2021 season as Chicago’s starter but has since lost it to rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
Fields, who was drafted 12th overall, was always expected to become the starter at some point during the season. Dalton has played in only one full game this year.
But in three games, he is 37-of-50 passingfor 270 yards, one touchdown and one interceptions.
Dalton won’t wow you. He’s not a franchise-changer and likely won’t carry a team.
But he does have plenty of experience as a starting quarterback and has been to the playoffs four times, though he has lost all four.
He has a $5 million salary cap number.
Nick Foles, Bears
Foles, is currently the Bears’ third-string quarterback, and unless Dalton and Justin Fields were to both deal with injuries, he likely won’t start this season.
Foles, 31, who has primarily been a backup for most of his career, won a Super Bowl while he was with the Eagles in 2018 as the starting quarterback. He has a 28-27 record in his career as a starter.
Last season, he threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in seven starts for the Bears. He also completed 64.7% of his passes.
The Bears might be willing to part ways with him. Unfortunately, his salary cap number is $6.6 million this season, and $10.6 million next year.
Jalen Hurts, Eagles
While the Eagles haven’t expressed interest in trading Hurts, they haven’t expressed the utmost confidence in him.
Hurts is 2-5 as a starter this season and has thrown 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and completed 61% of his passes. Hurts, who is also a threat in the run game, also has five rushing touchdowns, including the two he had against Carolina in Week 5.
Hurts, 23, is the youngest of this group and is only in his second season. Hurts has a salary cap number of $1.3 million and is signed through the 2023 season.
Marcus Mariota, Raiders
There was a time when some believed Mariota, 27, was a franchise quarterback. The Titans took him second overall in 2015.
But he’s primarily served as a backup since the 2018 season. Mariota is also a dual-threat quarterback.
His best season was in 2016 when he passed for 26 touchdowns and threw only nine interceptions. However, that was the only time in his seven-year career that he has thrown more than 20 touchdowns.
Mariota has a $3.5 million salary cap number. His contract expires after this season.