CHARLOTTE — It's a tradition unlike any other — me not paying attention to golf. Not in April, too much other stuff going on.
I mean, come on people, there's a draft coming in less than three weeks. There are big boards to maintain. I've got to figure out who's going in the 137th, 144th, and 149th spots in my mock draft.
I like azaleas as much as the next guy (and I know a guy who can hook you up with the highest-quality plant material). And I love a good egg salad sandwich. Or two.
But we're in the football bubble over here, gang. So let's dip into the mailbag and see what's happening.
It was interesting seeing Scott Fitterer mention the possibility of drafting a defensive end in the first round. Is that just a smoke screen, or does it make sense when that isn't the most glaring need on this roster? — Hugh, Manning, SC
For one thing, drafting for need is how you get yourself in trouble. For another thing, the Panthers didn't need a center when they drafted Ryan Kalil, and they didn't need a middle linebacker when they drafted Luke Kuechly, and those two moves turned out OK.
As it pertains to this year's draft, when you're in the top 10, you take the best value you can.
And value in the NFL is in passers, pass-rushers, and pass-protectors (though pass-catchers are rapidly making up ground with the recent giant deals for receivers). So if you can get one of those, you do it.
If there's not a quarterback you have a top-10 grade on, it's risky to draft him in the top 10. And if the left tackle you have your heart set on isn't available when you pick sixth, it makes more sense to take a higher-rated defensive end than a lower-rated quarterback.
So if there's a run on quarterbacks and offensive tackles, and someone like Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan or Travon Walker of Georgia is just sitting there at six, take him, and play him with Brian Burns for a couple of years and wreak havoc on people. It doesn't mean you're getting rid of Burns, because he's under contract (after they officially pick up his fifth-year option for 2023, which they're going to do). They also want to keep Burns beyond those two years. So don't panic.
What it means is you took the best player available — which is what smart teams do.
Good morning Darin, I hope your day is going swimmingly. What QB trade options do you think the Panthers are most likely to pursue? (Name deleted to prevent the appearance of tampering)? (Him too)? Or a higher-cost option like (Yeah, you're not getting me busted for saying that out loud)? — Cody, Four Oaks, NC
Swimmingly is a way that more days should go. I like that.
Without putting a particular name on particular players who are under contract to another team, I think it is fair to say there are options the Panthers could pursue other than the rookies who are available in this year's draft.
There aren't a lot of them, and some of them aren't necessarily great options. And some of them are probably more expensive than they'd prefer, in terms of salary and/or compensation required to acquire.
Teams looking to offload a quarterback, particularly an expensive one, try to get teams to compete for his services to drive up the price. But if there is no competition for those services (demand), he (supply) naturally becomes less valuable.
There's always a risk of the price going up later, like if a starter gets hurt and someone wants to panic-trade for a Sam Bradford again. It's like buying concert tickets on the secondary market. They're expensive at first, then they plateau, and at a certain point as the show gets closer, people just want to get what they can out of them before they're stuck paying for something they don't want anymore.
But that's a long way of saying there's always a chance they could pursue (name-redacted), (name-redacted), or (name-redacted) at some point. Later.
How much do you think the confidence that Ben McAdoo has in Brady Christensen to hold down the left tackle position will influence the #6 pick? If he's confident in him, we could pick the best player available or trade down and acquire more picks. Haha, we might do that anyway. — Graham, Burgaw, NC
I don't think what they do with the sixth overall pick is a referendum on Christensen, one way or another.
One is a top-10 pick. One was a third-rounder a year ago, who was valued for his ability to play multiple positions. It's unfair to Christensen to create expectations that treat those two things as equivalents.
If, for some reason, one of the top two tackles (Evan Neal or Ickey Ekwonu) slides to six, you take them and don't think twice about it. I mean seriously, you run that card to the podium; you don't walk. You sprint. At that point, you'd have the possibility of an elite left tackle, and Christensen could slide inside (where they thought he could eventually be very good when they drafted him [Remember, they had a second-round grade on him at guard, and a third-round grade at tackle]).
And while the option of trading down is always something they want to do, there's the small matter of finding someone to do it with. Until there's an actual demand and concrete offers to move into the top six, there will always be more teams that want to trade back than there are teams that are able to.
Since the NFL has adopted the new alternate helmet rule in 2022, do you think there is any chance we get the black helmets fans have been clamoring for for many years now? — Hunter, Mooresville, NC
Black? What about chrome? What about white? I've seen with my own two eyes a deep midnight blue paint job on a Panthers helmet that looked better than I thought it was going to.
Black helmets have been sort of a mythical creature around here for years. When Danny Morrison was the team president, he had one on a shelf in his office, and I told him we could talk for a half-hour about just that, and it would make fans happy.
The short answer is, a new helmet is a possibility, now that the league has updated its rules to allow teams to use a different one with their alternate uniforms. There hasn't been a decision made on whether that will happen or not, or what color it would be, or when it would potentially happen.
But stay tuned, since there is a chance something happens this year. Until then, feel free to speculate wildly about what you think would look best. As an Old, I understand that I am not the target demographic for discussions about alternate uniforms. I still think the best look for the Panthers is silver britches and black jerseys, though I will accept white-on-white when it's hot. I'm not Penn State uniform-old, because I didn't hate white britches/blue jerseys as much as I thought (particularly with white shoes). It looks fast.
How is the recent trade of draft picks between the Eagles and Saints most likely to affect the Panthers in the draft? Or should I be more concerned with trade partners for the Texans? — Susan, Inman, SC
There's a lot to be concerned about.
With a quarter of the league (eight teams) holding multiple first-round picks, the opportunity exists for a more volatile first round in terms of trades.
But depending on what people might want to trade for, that could be good for the Panthers anyway.
Every time someone moves up to take a thing, another thing gets pushed down. If someone makes an aggressive move ahead of the Panthers for a quarterback or a pass-rusher, then that could mean the Panthers are one spot closer to an offensive tackle (or a different quarterback or pass-rusher).
And we'll take a closer look at the teams picking ahead of the Panthers (the Jaguars, Lions, Texans, Jets, and Giants) as we get closer to draft weekend. But in short, the two New York teams are viable trade targets since they each have multiple picks, and the Texans are a possibility because who knows what direction they're going. Same with the Lions and Jaguars, really.
Not sure what will happen, but it should make for some good TV.
Any chance you can get Jordan Gross to convince Bradley Bozeman to bring back the O-Line RV club for Training Camp? Also, among the offensive linemen (new and existing), who would be the best tap dancer? The best standup comedian? The best hockey player? — Paul, Wilmington, NC
This is inspired Paul, on many levels.
Former center Jeff Mitchell was actually the originator, bringing his Winnebago to Spartanburg and turning it into an offensive line meeting room. Gross followed suit a few years later, because spreading wisdom from the older generation to the kids is what people are supposed to do.
Bozeman feels like a potential next link in this chain.
Bozeman seems comfortable living in a house now after being based out of an RV when he was a rookie, but I bet someone could talk him into a cameo. He also seems like the kind of guy who would drag the other guys in there with him, and ultimately, that was the point. It was a place to get away from the crowd, but also to bond. A safe space, if you will.
We could all use more of those.
And now that the league has announced that locker rooms should be open to the media again this year (allow me to digress), there's a better chance of finding out who the funny ones and the best skaters are. Locker room access is one of those things a lot of fans misunderstand, because it sounds weird to talk to players while they're changing before practices or after games. But having access gives you a chance to have an extended conversation with guys, build relationships, and develop a better understanding of the subject material than you can at a press conference podium or on a Zoom call.
That's good for media outlets like this one, but it's also good for the players themselves, as it gives them more of a chance to build a brand, or set the stage for future opportunities. Guys like Greg Olsen were always among the most available and most accessible for reporters in the locker room, and being a de facto spokesman for the team for a lot of years gave Greg a lot of reps at talking. And now that he's become very good at talking about football on television, it's clear that those reps were of some use to him as well.
It doesn't have to be the imposition some people think it is, and ultimately, it's good for you, the fan, because it connects you more closely to the players you support.
And because Paul made me think about a thing that makes me happy, and gave me a chance to yammer on about a thing I think is important, I'm declaring him this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and the appropriate honorarium will be on the way as soon as I get my hands on it.
Let's go lightning round to close it out for the weekend:
Hey Old Guy, two questions: 1) How many years out can a team trade draft picks? 2) I'm going to a couple of concerts this summer; both are 80's era bands since that's my groove. Is it OK to dress in full 80's attire to attend? — Rich, Mt. Olive, NC
Teams can trade picks as many as three years ahead of time. The exception is the weekend of the draft, when they'd be allowed to go four years out. So ostensibly, on April 28, a team could trade its first-round pick in 2025.
And brother, if those parachute pants still fit you without somebody calling the cops, you wear those things loud and proud. Rock on.
Who is the front runner for the starting quarterback position? Scott Fitterer said the Panthers would add depth to that position, but we haven't added anyone so can we infer we are drafting a QB? — Sreenivas, Apex, NC
Or trading for one. Or something. It's Sam Darnold until it isn't.
Will the NFL be kind enough to schedule a Thursday night game while the Presidents Cup is in town late September? Can we make this request, officially? — Jordan, Charlotte
Teams can ask the league for certain allowances on scheduling, but the Panthers didn't ask to be sent on the road that week (as they have in the past to keep from conflicting with other events).
If you are looking for a vacation, Mokelumne Hill in the spring is California foothill heaven on earth. Haunted hotel room on me. — William, Mokelumne Hill, CA
Thanks, but that's a nope. "Haunted" is not listed among my preferences on the Marriott app. I've got enough terror in my life and I ain't looking to import any. I am intrigued by non-haunted Calaveras County though, as long as it's not bring your own frog (BYOF).
Any chance of Steve Smith Sr. coming out of retirement? Dude still makes me want to ice up. — Michael, Wilmington, NC
Steve likes making that easy money in the media. But I would pay cash money (perhaps even my own) to see him come out of retirement, Vinny Testaverde-style, for one game. And if he did, I'd still like his chances of making a play, especially if somebody made him mad. Which, frankly, is the easiest thing in the world to do, and if someone didn't offend him, he would invent the offense, as he has done many times in the past.
Also, all "any chance" questions still go to @PanthersBill.
With Stephon Gilmore still on the open market, what do you think the chances are they bring him back on board? I think we'd be lucky to have him. — Wanda, Deep Run, NC
Never met a Wanda who wasn't trouble with a capital T, but you seem nice. I like the theory of having Gilmore around. He is wise. I wonder about the practical application, after bringing back Donte Jackson to pair with Jaycee Horn. Stephon will have options to join teams which are perhaps closer to Super Bowl contention, and that might matter more than being close to home. We'll see; it depends on him.
Favorite way to eat veal? — @DarthWaya on Twitter
When it is paid for by another.
That'll do it for me. Enjoy your egg salad sandwiches this weekend, and don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses.