Monday, July 4, 2022

NFL insider notebook: Panthers keeping QB options open, don’t expect move during draft; Jags split on top pick

The Carolina Panthers are keeping their options open at the quarterback position, and I could see this dragging into next week — well after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft — where the team ultimately ends up with 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said Tuesday he’s informed Sam Darnold there’s “a pretty good chance” the team could add a QB during the draft weekend. It’s certainly possible the Panthers find themselves stuck at No. 6 overall with the top-three offensive tackles off the board and Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett staring them in the face.

The Panthers would love to trade down, but so would just about everyone in the top-12 to 15 of this year’s draft. Failing to find a partner, Carolina can scoop the best available left tackle, let the draft conclude and market settle, then trade for Garoppolo.

As we near the draft, the smoke coming out of Charlotte is the Panthers aren’t interested in trading for Baker Mayfield. I don’t get the impression anyone in Charlotte is pressed to bring Mayfield on right now (he was never getting traded before the draft), and I don’t believe the Panthers view him as a personality fit in the locker room over Garoppolo.

Now, Mayfield is the cheaper and healthier option. But the Niners would have to eat some of Garoppolo’s salary (like the Browns would have to with Mayfield), and the Panthers would be fine at the position until Garoppolo returns to health during training camp.

Carolina would love it if the top-three edge rushers and top-two corners flew off the board to start the draft, allowing them more flexibility to trade back and still collect an offensive tackle. The Panthers don’t pick again until No. 137, and there’s an unwillingness (for now) to sell future draft picks to get a second-rounder this year.

Here are the rest of my pre-draft notes in what is sure to be an unpredictable draft.

Jaguars on the clock

The betting markets seem convinced the Jags will take Travon Walker No. 1 overall. I and the rest of the league wish we could be as confident. I’ve heard team owner Shad Khan is leaning toward Aidan Hutchinson. And GM Trent Baalke seems to be infatuated with Walker. Offensive tackle has an outside chance of happening even with the three-year deal with Cam Robinson.

Texans leaning defense

There’s a ton of smoke around Houston and Derek Stingley Jr. For what it’s worth, I’m told Lovie Smith is — pardon the pun — in love with Walker at No. 3. But it’s Nick Caserio’s decision to make here. I’d think getting a versatile player like Walker who can line up in different positions no matter what the head coach’s scheme is would help the Texans more.

Falcons looking to fill need

There’s no position group where the Falcons can’t reasonably add this draft. But if the board breaks where the top tackles and pass rushers are gone, I think Atlanta would be comfortable trading back into the teens and collecting a wide receiver.

The Falcons desperately need help at wideout, and they can’t get anything for Calvin Ridley until next year when they can deal him to the highest bidder next March.

Atlanta has strong interest in USC WR Drake London, though. I’m not sure he’ll be available after the Washington Commanders pick at No. 11.

Eagles looking to move up

To no one’s surprise, Eagles GM Howie Roseman is waiting in the weeds for a potential trade up. I’m told he’s talked to teams in the top-10 but that no substantive offers or parameters have been discussed.

If he trades up, the opinion is that it’ll be for Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton or his top wide-receiver.

Carolina at six, Atlanta at eight and Seattle at nine would seemingly be the targets. Philly showed last year they’re willing to trade first-round picks in the NFC East, but I’m not sure that’s what first-year GM Joe Schoen will want to do at seven.

It benefits Roseman to wait right now. If the board doesn’t fall in favor of Carolina, Atlanta or Seattle, he can pounce with a take-it-or-leave-it offer to slide up.

More draft-related news

I don’t believe Deebo Samuel is going anywhere this weekend. The Niners aren’t panicking because he very clearly wants out. To them, Samuel is following a formula laid out by many players on rookie contracts: delete team references from social media, request a trade, never publicly say why you want out, engineer public leverage since it’s the only leverage you can get on a rookie deal. The 49ers have known for 13 months they wouldn’t be picking in the first round. Looking at their top-30 visits, you could generously say they’ve had three potential first-rounders in their building this spring. Trading Samuel now makes sense only when looking at assuring you get understood value — like the 10th overall pick — in return. But if you haven’t done the necessary homework, you put yourself in a disadvantaged position. Samuel’s trade request has given us all clicks and plenty to talk about, and I expect it will into July and August, too. … Don’t be surprised when Georgia LB Quay Walker is the first linebacker taken in this year’s draft. “He’ll go higher than a lot of folks think,” one league source told me. Walker over Devin Lloyd for the first LB off the board would count as an upset.

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