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Panthers beat writer believes Carolina drafting a QB is a smokescreen, and there’s interest in Jimmy G.

Carolina has they eyes on the offensive tackles in this draft

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Trade talks surrounding 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo came to a screeching halt once teams learned he wouldn’t be able to throw until the summer.

We’re a couple of weeks away from the NFL Draft, where a couple of teams still must decide whether they’ll hand the keys to a rookie signal-caller in an underwhelming quarterback class.

The Carolina Panthers are Jimmy’s best bet to land a starting gig in 2022. Matt Rhule has swung and missed with each opportunity at quarterback as a head coach. He gave Teddy Bridgewater a $63 million contract, then traded him away for a sixth-round pick. Carolina would go on to trade a second-round pick plus three other picks for Sam Darnold and immediately exercise his fifth-year option. The Cam Newton reunion tour lasted a week.

The alternative is Baker Mayfield or Garoppolo. Looking at the Panthers from a team-building standpoint, Garoppolo wins based on the process of elimination. They’re not a “quarterback away,” nor are the Panthers in a situation where they can expect a rookie quarterback to uplift a roster void of talent.

Jonathan Alexander, the Panthers beat writer from the Charlotte Observer, shared his insight on how he thinks Carolina’s plans over the next two weeks will go on Bluewire’s The Roar podcast:

I fully think that the Panthers want to take the best available player, preferably being offensive line.

All of the quarterback stuff you hear. And you hear national people talk about quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. I really think it's a smokescreen. I do think it’s serious, though. I mention that because they have to. I like these guys in order of who I think the Panthers would choose: Evan Neal, Ickey Ekwonu, Travon Walker, Charles Cross. Actually, Charles Cross before Travon Walker, I’m sorry.

But there’s a small chance that all four of those guys come off the board — and that’s excluding Aiden Hutchinson because he’s not going to be there at 6. But there’s a small chance that all of those guys come off the board. Then who are the Panthers going to be staring at?

Malik Willis. He has the highest upside. Then, they’re going to want to trade back. But you have to have a trade-back partner. Who is going to want to give up those picks?

They discussed the lack of potential trade partners, this being a weak QB class and players Carolina would rule out. Based on their discussion and the Panthers' biggest needs, the signs point to them taking an offensive tackle unless there’s an early run-on on the position.

Later on in the podcast, the discussion shifted to acquiring veteran quarterbacks, where the host and Jonathan brought up the likelihood of Garoppolo becoming a Panther:

I reported this on Monday. I do think one of the Panthers' quarterbacks when it’s all said and done, is going to be Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield. I wrote in my story that the reason the Panthers had a disinterest in Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield was because their contracts are not something they want to take on. And it was something they couldn’t take on. And they were focused on Deshaun Watson.

But the $26.9 million [Jimmy] and $18.9 million for Baker Mayfield, they didn’t want to pay that type of contract and Sam Darnold. That was where the disinterest was. But if that contract comes down, and the 49ers or Browns agree to take on that money. If they did that, they become a lot more attractive.

If you look at Jimmy G., I think it’s reasonable to think the Panthers would prefer him over Baker. He’s had more success in the NFL. I do know that the shoulder injury does concern them. And if he won’t be ready until August, that’s also a concern.

It’s refreshing to get an outsider's perspective from somebody plugged into Carolina. Based on their conversations, it sounded like there was genuine interest in Garoppolo.

Knowing both quarterbacks' contracts are pricy, one hypothetical discussed was the 49ers taking Sam Darnold off the Panthers' books. The 49ers would still come out ahead by $7 million and would almost assuredly restructure Darnold’s contract closer to $7 million with incentives.

Darnold could go on the Mitchell Trubisky plan, where he ups his value without having to play a single snap. Then, next offseason, when a team inevitably needs a quarterback, they sign Darnold, and the Niners luck into a comp pick for developing Darnold behind the scenes.

That’d be the dream scenario for the 49ers. But, first, the Panthers must convince themselves that Garoppolo is the best quarterback for them in 2022.