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Sam Darnold is No. 1 in Carolina for now, but the quarterback job is “up for grabs”

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer sits down with Mike Florio to talk about drafting Ikem Ekwonu sixth overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, a Cam Newton reunion and whether Sam Darnold or Matt Corral will start at QB next season.

The third overall pick in 2018 currently is the top cat at quarterback in Carolina. That doesn’t mean a 2022 third-round pick can’t knock him off.

Panthers G.M. Scott Fitterer, in a recent appearance on #PFTPM, addressed the dynamics regarding veteran Sam Darnold and rookie Matt Corral.

“Sam is the number one guy right now,” Fitterer said. “He has every opportunity to take it and run with it. We hope he does well. We’ve seen improvement already under [offensive coordinator] Ben McAdoo. He’s working hard, he’s throwing the ball well. He’s just got to take it and run with it. He’s got to own the position. The one thing we’re looking to do is stabilize the position. It’s been up and down, up and down. We’re bringing in Matt Corral. P.J. Walker’s already here. We’ll see how it goes. He’s in the lead right now, but until someone really owns that position, gives us an opportunity to win, it will always be up for grabs.”

It’s easy to forget that the Panthers and Darnold started well in 2021, and that things got a little dicey after that. Carolina was 3-0, and Darnold was getting it done.

“I thought he did play well the first three games,” Fitterer said. “I thought he played really well even into the Dallas game. He played well in the first half. I think injuries, losing [Christian] McCaffrey did play a factor in it, but really it was the inconsistency of the offensive line. There was too much leakage up there. That was one priority going into this offseason, improving the offensive line. We brought in three new bodies that we think can come in and help us start. Drafted a left tackle here in the first round. I think that can only help the quarterback. With Sam when he has time, he delivered the ball [and] looked good, but when he didn’t have time, even when Cam Newton was here, he didn’t have time. It’s hard to play that position and it’s not solely on the quarterback, it’s on us. It’s on the whole offense but one of the big steps we did take was fixing that offensive line.”

As to Matt Corral, Fitterer said that the rookie will play if he “gives us the best opportunity to win.” And even with the drafting of Corral, the door isn’t closed. Although Fitterer wasn’t specifically asked about Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (Fitterer can’t comment on a player under contract with another team), he was asked to generally discuss the possibility of trading for a veteran quarterback.

“I would say quarterback or any other position,” Fitterer said, “if there’s someone out there that we think can help us, we’ll keep our minds open. We have the money set aside to make several different moves and that was important for us to do. We want that flexibility but if someone can help us regardless of position, we’ll make a move at some point.”

The final decision as to whether to pursue Baker Mayfield or even Jimmy Garoppolo may depend on what they seen over the balance of the offseason program or in the early stages of training camp. With the job, as Fitterer said, “up for grabs,” they need to have a plan in the event no one currently on the team grabs it.