CHARLOTTE — May's kind of a funny month of football coverage.
We spend all spring getting everyone lathered up for the draft, and then when the picks are in, you get a month of something that looks almost like football.
If anyone tries to tell you they learned anything truly meaningful during rookie minicamp last weekend, or next week in an unpadded OTA in which contact is prohibited, they're trying to seem smarter than they actually are — thus often achieving the inverse result.
Passes thrown against air to tryout players, most of whom did not join the team after the weekend, are not a reliable way to measure any quarterback. Sure, there's intense interest in Matt Corral, and there should be. But seeing a particular pass, without the important context of whether the intended target actually ran the correct route at the correct depth, or whether the intended target is good at football, can be misleading.
Linemen are two months from actually putting on pads and hitting anyone, so it's impossible to get a real sense of their progress. Sure, there's intense interest in Ikem Ekwonu, and there should be. But they also had four linemen last weekend, so it wasn't like real football. Now that the veterans are back, they're also cycling through so many combinations that it's hard to tell where certain guys are going to settle in.
Which is a long way of saying, they've collected a lot of interesting parts this offseason. We'll have to see how they fit together.
OK, so watching Matt Corral's interview last weekend, he seems like he's confident. How did he look on the field? — Hugh, Manning, SC
Well, Hugh, I saw Jimmy Clausen's first minicamp. It wasn't like that or anything.
Here's what we know about Corral: He can throw the ball. He gets it out very quickly. He's athletic. He can run around.
He also appears to have that leadership vibe that good quarterbacks tend to have. Eyes are drawn to him on the field, which is a good thing.
But he's also a show-up-early guy, which is also a good thing for a guy with a lot of catching up to do. In that regard, he fits in well with the group on hand. (Some of the other show-up-early guys around here are Christian McCaffrey and Taylor Moton) The way this team is built at the moment, a quarterback doesn't have to be a lead dog. If he eventually becomes one, that's great, but it's not necessarily a day-one prerequisite.
He's played at a sufficiently high level that it's reasonable to expect him to play well. We won't find out how well or when that will be until training camp or the preseason.
Greetings, Happy May to you. I've been enjoying the drawn-out QB evolution since the draft. One day, a writer sounds pretty sure that we are giving Sam Darnold another opportunity, and two days later, someone writes that (name redacted) and (name redacted) are still in the mix. With most analysts saying that Corral will not be ready to take the reins in 2022, where would you likely place him on the QB depth chart, depending on who QB-1 turns out to be? — Randall, Old Fort, NC
That's an interesting question, actually.
If the Panthers stand pat with what they have now, it's fair to think Corral will get time to marinate behind the incumbent starter and a backup who is a known commodity. But Corral's also not that far behind PJ Walker in terms of experience in a Ben McAdoo offense, so the difference is probably smaller than inertia alone would indicate.
The Panthers drafted Corral for a reason, but they're also being careful not to rush him. But my suspicion (source: my two eyes) is, if this is the roster, then he'd likely be the backup sooner rather than later.
Randall also alluded to a not-unimportant part of this equation: It's smart not to assume too much about what the quarterback depth chart will look like in September. They've shaken every quarterback tree in the league for the last few years, so it stands to reason they will continue to.
And with multiple expensive veteran options clogging up payrolls elsewhere, it's hard for any of the teams which employ those expensive veteran options to pretend they have much leverage. There's no point in spending now for something that might be free in a few weeks, so the Panthers can sit back and wait and not rush into any deal. Especially with Darnold's $18.9 million guaranteed salary, it's prudent to see if you can pay less for something later.
Things can change quickly when it comes to quarterbacks. That's as true today as it has been for the last few years.
Do I understand correctly that "restructuring" means getting players to agree to take contracted money later, so the current cap hit is smaller, but the team will have a bigger hit later? And that kicking the can down the road like this moved us from supposedly too tight to do what we did in new contracts to having cap space left over this year? If we don't commit this money to additions before or during this year, can we simply pay someone early to buy back future flexibility? — Dean, Zionville, NC
Not exactly. A lot of the confusion about some of this comes from things not always being explained accurately the first time.
Sometimes, things that get described as a restructuring are actually just a pay cut. But generally, a thing that gets described as a restructuring is a simple accounting trick, in which a guy gets the same amount of money, but it gets paid out as a bonus instead of a larger base salary during the season, allowing the team to prorate a certain amount of cap room over future years of the deal.
The Panthers restructured a bunch of deals this offseason to give themselves some flexibility in free agency, in case they needed to add a big-ticket thing or more medium-ticket things. They also couldn't be sure they'd do a long-term deal with DJ Moore when they did, so they had to account for carrying him at his fifth-year option number of over $11 million (his cap hit this year is just over $6 million).
The other neat thing about cap room is, if you don't use it all this year, you can always carry it over and apply it to next year's cap. Teams that stay healthy and don't have to spend their rainy day funds during the season replacing guys can benefit the following year.
Two questions. When can we expect the release of the draft insider video? And also, I know Sam Darnold would be the starter if we had a game tomorrow, I get it. However, if during training camp Sam was not meshing well and Corral was shining, they would start Matt Week 1, correct? I know it's all speculative, but in this day and time, the best player should play. — Cody, Four Oaks, NC
The draft video has generally dropped in late May. My extremely talented co-workers are in the process of making it as we speak, and the parts I've seen are really cool. So that's my way of saying, soon. Stay tuned.
As to the quarterback question, they don't want to rush Corral, but if he's clearly the better option, they have no reason not to play him, either.
He's a longer-term investment. Darnold's on the final year of his deal. So there's time to let Corral grow, but if it becomes obvious that he's ahead of pace, there's also nothing stopping them from putting him on the field.
(BTW, there was a teaser for the draft insider video inside last week's episode of the Panthers Huddle...I've linked it here for your convenience).
When will the new additions to the team get their numbers? Meaning Austin Corbett, Bradley Bozeman, and Xavier Woods? Would really like to see what numbers all those guys decide to go with! Thank you, been a fan since 1995 and have lived in Wisconsin my whole life. Dream is to make it to NC to see a Panthers game live and be at BOA Stadium! — Andrew, Waukesha, WI
Andrew's question came in earlier this week, before we unveiled all the veteran numbers for the coming season.
Bozeman's 56 looks pretty sweet, actually. A throwback vibe. He's kind of a throwback player, too, so it works.
We talked about jersey numbers last week, and I admitted to being a jersey number nihilist. Mentioned on social media that I'd love to see a gigantic defensive tackle wearing a single digit, because the negative space on the jersey around it emphasizes the largeness of the person. That's when some helpful soul reminded me that Derrick Brown wore 5 at Auburn. Yes. Look at that. It is vast and glorious.
More unconventional numbers and single digits on large people, please.
Will Cade Mays get a shot at earning that LG role or is he viewed as a guy that will play the interior swing role for both guards and center? — Greg, Tega Cay, SC
Do you think Deonte Brown (with a transformed body), could compete for that start LG role? He seems pretty glove fit for this heavy run scheme. — Chris, Clearwater, FL
These two questions work in tandem, like a good guard has to do. So in honor of that, I'm declaring both Greg and Chris our Friends Of The Mailbag for the week, and will get the appropriate honorarium heading their way (and for all the FsOTM who haven't received their merch, a new shipment has been ordered and should be on the way soon). Also, special shoutout to the readers who want to talk about left guards in May. These are my people.
Back to the question(s), the Panthers are actually in a weird spot. They have something resembling offensive line depth.
Roll that around in your head for a second, and think back to last year, when they started 13 different combinations of linemen in 17 games, and were often training guys how to snap on the sidelines because they were nearly out of centers at one point.
Assuming Ekwonu ends up starting at left tackle (and this seems like a reasonable assumption in May), the Panthers have a number of possibilities.
Brady Christensen seems like one, as last year's third-rounder carried a second-round grade on their draft board as a guard. He could be really good, and perhaps one day become the Travelle Wharton to Ekwonu's Jordan Gross (it's May, and time to think in best-case scenarios).
Or they could look at Michael Jordan there, after he had some strong performances at times last year, when the waiver claim from Cincinnati had to start.
At this point, Brown and Mays look like depth options, but if last year taught us anything, it's that you need plenty of those. They didn't have them in 2021. They have more now, with four big additions to the offensive line room.
Brown didn't get to play much last year, but he did put some good tape down against the Buccaneers late. And as mentioned, this staff wants to be more physical in the run game, so he's a stylistic fit.
Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go collect myself, after imagining this team with quality offensive line depth. So weird. Not used to it.
Hi Darin! Although the schedule release doesn't seem to cause any emotion in you (one can say it's justified), for some people like me that live outside the state or the country, it's a really great day because I can finally see if I'd be able to attend a Panthers game this season — and luckily there will be a home game when I'll be near there! So you can bet me and my son are truly excited about that! My question this week is about where can I go have a good food after the game, nothing fancy is needed. — Fernando, São Paulo, Brazil
I'm still wrapping my mind around the idea that schedule release is a big deal. But when you see what this staff does with the product, it can't help but inspire you.
The excitement among fans is real, as you can tell. Travel's part of that. But there's also something tangible about realizing they'll be in certain places on certain specific dates. And being able to plan a family trip makes it that much more special.
Fernando is one of our OG FsOTM, so I want to help him out. My problem is, things have well and truly wound down by the time I leave the stadium after a game, so I'm not really the one to ask. In the '90s, when I started doing this, they rolled up the sidewalks downtown after dark. There were no good options. Now, so many! Or so I've heard. So I'll crowdsource this part. When you send your questions in for future mailbags, drop a RECOMMENDATION FOR FERNANDO in there as well, and we'll either publish the best of them or make sure they get into his hands.
From one old guy to another, hope things are well. I know everyone is excited to see Jaycee Horn back and rightfully so, but how excited is the team about getting Daviyon Nixon back? Also, has there been any mention on how they see Joe Jackson fitting in? On the offensive side of things, is Jared Scotta potential Dan Arnold replacement? — Eric, Jacksonville, FL
Now this, this is a May question.
Jared Scott was here on a tryout last weekend, and earned a spot on the 90-man roster. So we should probably wait a bit before we start projecting his role. But he did earn some notice during rookie minicamp, and has an intriguing physical skill set. So we'll see how the next steps unfold for him.
Jackson's part of a fairly deep group of guys competing for backup defensive end snaps. His advantage is he's got some size (listed at 6-4, 285), and they definitely wanted to get bigger up front to help with the run defense. But he has some experience, so it'll be interesting to see how things shake out in the group that includes Marquis Haynes Sr., Darryl Johnson, rookie Amaré Barno, and others.
Nixon's one of the more intriguing players to watch on defense. He was beginning to show some potential as an interior rusher last year when he went down with a knee injury in practice. He's back on the field now, and adds a certain juice to the proceedings. He's a big personality, and now that he's number 54, he'll stand out even more. But if he can give them consistent snaps behind free agent pickup Matt Ioannidis, it could add an element to the defense they lacked last year.
Let's go lightning round to close it out:
I feel compelled to tell you that I enjoy "Ask The Old Guy" very much. It is in can't-wait status for me, as in I can't wait for the next column to come out. Kinda like waiting for "Return of the Jedi" to hit the theaters, if you know what I mean. I just wish you would not have been quite so correct in your comments about the Cincinnati Reds a few weeks back. — John, Wilmington, NC
Thanks, John. Yeah, it's a drag when your baseball team of preference is eliminated from postseason contention before Mother's Day. At least we have the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series to look forward to on May 27. I will consume every bit of Star Wars content they shovel at me, so that's a can't-wait for me. Maybe next April I'll do a Star Wars character mock draft. (Spoiler alert: Chewbacca is the Ickey Ekwonu of Kashyyyk. He's a great team guy, who doesn't pout when he's unfairly deprived of a medal. And he's also a great quote, who once told me in the locker room: "RRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHRGGGGHHH.")
Who would win a cage match between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher? — Will, Rock Hill, SC
I would take Phil Snow over either of them, to be honest with you. But I also don't want to do anything to discourage SEC coaches slap-fighting in May for my entertainment. They only way to make it better would be if they did those press conferences in the voice of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes. "Nick Saban, he put hard times on Jimbo Fisher's family."
The Panthers look like they could use a real veteran presence in their QB room (someone much more experienced than Darnold). Now that he has been cut by the Bears, do the Panthers have any interest in Nick Foles? — Jim, Sugar Land, TX
I was hoping for another Vinny Testaverde comeback. Or maybe another Josh McCown reunion. Foles' career amazes me, as he's been exceedingly ordinary, except for when he wasn't that one time in the postseason. But he's a quarterback, so we're going to get an "any chance" questions about him and the rest of them, until we don't.
The highest ranked (PFF) NFL O-Line that Sam has played behind was 25th one year with the Jets. With our O-Line revamped, do you think Sam's play will improve? If so, how much? Is it worth giving him a shot, or has he proved who he is? — Mitch, Bloomingburg, NY
It can't hurt. Sam, with time, has shown he can be reasonably effective. And I think he's getting his shot right now.
That'll do it for me this week. May the Fourth through the 20th (and all the rest of May) be with you.