INDIANAPOLIS – Head coach Frank Reich left the Panthers' meeting with free agent quarterback Derek Carr in Indianapolis Tuesday night excited about what the veteran could bring to his new offense. They agreed to put another chat on the calendar for next Monday.
Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer gave positive reviews of Carr during press conferences Wednesday, focusing on the former Raider's career achievements. Carr set Las Vegas franchise records in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and pass completions before a disappointing season in 2022 spelled his eventual release from the team.
"Derek's played at a high level for a while; he's got plenty of experience," Fitterer said. "He's gone through a lot of different changes with the Raiders. And I know he set all the records, but he's also had a lot of volatility on the coaching staffs there. So there's a lot of things to like about him."
Carr's a four-time Pro Bowler with playoff experience, and Reich said he sees the 31-year-old in his "prime quarterback years." Investing in Carr would open a "good five-year window," per Reich, so the impression is that Carr would be more than a quick fix to the Panthers' offense.
"I really have a lot of respect for him, what he's accomplished in his career, the kind of player he is, the kind of person he is," Reich said about Carr. "Just (seeing) 'Is this the right fight? Is this an answer?' And I think part of that is, 'Yeah, this is a good option.'
"But we have to look it through. We're looking at all options. This is a time of year that we do that. We were excited about that meeting, and it was a good meeting. We'll take it day by day."
The rest of the week will be for taking stock of what options lie in this year's draft class. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers have met with six of the top quarterback prospects in this year's draft – including Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Kentucky's Will Levis, Florida's Anthony Richardson, Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, and TCU's Max Duggan.
They'll also work to evaluate how Carr would fit in Carolina's new scheme under Reich and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, should he become the option they choose.
Fitterer said early meetings with Carr started over the phone and progressed into an in-person meeting with owners David and Nicole Tepper, Reich, Fitterer, assistant general manager Dan Morgan, and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman on Tuesday night, characterizing the talk as a "get-to-know-you session." They can't talk to any other free agents until the league's negotiating period starts March 13. But since Carr was released by the Raiders, he was available now.
"It was kind of a feeling-out process," Fitterer said. "We're not making any commitments; we're just going down that road. We're also going down the road of the draft quarterbacks, as well. Because of when free agency is, right after the combine here, you have to go down multiple roads at the same time.
"And that's really our philosophy, to explore every option out there, get all information, then make the best (decision) once we have all those answers. What's best for the Carolina Panthers moving forward?"
Reich said weighing out the pros and cons of a veteran or a rookie have been the topic of discussions between their leadership team as they were interviewing Carr.
"There's the value of the veteran in leadership, the proven commodity, and all that kind of stuff," Reich said. "How does that fit with the team in the locker room versus taking a young guy? Doing something in the draft and building it from there. Those are all things that need to be discussed. There are intangibles, and there are (tangibles). There are things that you can quantify, things that you can't quantify. So you just work together and talk through those things.
Fitterer said the next two weeks would be "very important" in terms of deciding on a quarterback, and he didn't leave any outcome off the table. Should the Panthers acquire a veteran, it doesn't mean they wouldn't draft a quarterback too.
"We're going to exhaust every option," Fitterer said. "Looking at the draft and different situations to figure out how to best fix this moving forward, instead of just putting a patch on it."
View photos of head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer from their press conferences and interviews with the media at the Combine on Wednesday.