CHARLOTTE — For all the months of discussions, for all the mock drafts, for all the scenarios, it's now as simple as this for the Panthers.
They have two easy-to-spot needs on the current roster. They have one pick in the first two days.
It's very nearly decision time.
With the sixth overall pick in tonight's 2022 NFL Draft, the Panthers have an opportunity to potentially address a long-standing need at left tackle, or potentially find a long-term answer at quarterback.
Of course, doing the first one is dependent on one of the top three tackles (Ickey Ekwonu, Evan Neal, Charles Cross) being available when they choose. They can't be certain of that until they see three non-tackles go in the top five.
Doing the second one is dependent on thinking one of the passers in this class, whether it's Matt Corral or Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett, is deserving of being a top-10 pick. That's also far from certain. General manager Scott Fitterer said earlier this week there were a couple of quarterbacks he'd be comfortable taking that high, though the consensus is this class isn't as strong as previous years, and they'd likely be able to find one later.
The Panthers could also potentially trade, since they aren't scheduled to pick again until early Saturday afternoon (late in the fourth round in the 137th overall spot). But again, that's likely dependent on the playeers they've targeted not being on the board.
It sounds like a daunting task, and they could leave the weekend with a significant question mark (though there are a few veteran quarterbacks available if they wanted to trade for one, and a few starting-caliber left tackles including Duane Brown and Eric Fisher).
But they're able to enter the weekend with just the two big questions after an aggressive offseason in which they stabilized some key areas of the roster.
The moves were highlighted by a three-year extension for wide receiver DJ Moore, and bringing back free-agent cornerback Donte Jackson, keeping the core of the 2018 draft class in place for the future. When you say you want to build a strong foundation, drafting and developing your own is the first step. Keeping Moore in particular, at a time when the receiver market has produced some extravagant contracts, was essential.
Knowing they needed to bolster an offensive line that started 13 different combinations in 17 games last year, they signed guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman early in free agency.
They replaced some pieces on defense with productive veterans (defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, safety Xavier Woods), and upgraded their special teams units by signing All-Decade punter Johnny Hekker and extending kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Of course, they still need to check off those first two boxes, and have hours to decide which one they're going to prioritize.
The clock's ticking.
View behind the scenes photos of the 2022 NFL Draft stage in Las Vegas.