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Frank Reich: In "ideal world" they draft a quarterback

Frank Reich

INDIANAPOLIS — Yes, the Panthers talked to free agent Derek Carr Tuesday night, a meeting that included owners Dave and Nicole Tepper. And they'll continue to talk to Carr, with another call set for next week.

But they came to Indianapolis for a reason, and head coach Frank Reich made it clear what their best-case scenario would be.

"I mean, I think anybody would say, in the ideal world, you draft a guy who was your quarterback for the next 15 years," Reich said Wednesday. "It's not the ideal world, right? We don't live in the ideal world. You can't always have everything you want. But you just have to figure out what your options are, and what you learn is you have to go down multiple tracks and be prepared to take the step that is the right move for your club at the right time. So that's what we're doing."

General manager Scott Fitterer said that when you consider all the factors — including future salary caps and roster constructions — there are clear advantages to drafting one.

"You always want to draft a quarterback," he said. "Draft, develop, and then have that guy here for five or 10 years. You want to have that consistency; it helps for many different reasons, the continuity on your roster, for salary cap reasons — there's so many benefits to drafting and developing.

"We'll see if we can get in a position where we get one of the guys we like. Is there a guy there in the second round? Is it can we get up in the first round? Those are all the things we're exploring right now. But yes, you're right. I don't think it's wrong to necessarily look at the veteran route if you can't do that, but in an ideal world, you do want to draft (your quarterback)."

Making this a non-ideal world is the pesky fact that picking ninth overall, the Panthers don't have the luxury of being choosy without making a big deal.

With so much interest in the top quarterbacks in this draft and so many teams interested in acquiring one of them, the Panthers are in an unusual position.

The Bears have acknowledged they're open for business with the top pick, and the Cardinals (picking third) and Seahawks (always interested in trading down) have also communicated a willingness to listen this week.

So they're working through a number of options at the moment, including evaluating Carr (who is available now) and the rest of the free agent class (who they can't negotiate with until March 13), and all these quarterbacks arrayed before them in Indianapolis.

Fitterer acknowledged that the Panthers have already held formal interviews with the consensus top four quarterbacks in this year's class — Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson — along with injured Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker and TCU's Max Duggan. Not all of those guys are first-rounders.

They'll continue the evaluations of those quarterbacks and others through the rest of the combine, the pro day circuit, and private workouts and visits. And with the start of the league year on March 15, the clock is ticking to the time they'll need to effectively declare their intentions.

"I think there's a lot of different options to look at," Fitterer said. "If you want to go that veteran route, that's going to happen a lot earlier, and those guys are gone. That's why we're going to take this week to get all the answers that we need to get. We've talked to a lot of the young quarterbacks in the draft here. But yes, I think the next probably two weeks is very important."

And the cost of trading up (especially if they want to move to the top spot) would be high, and that creates a different focus for them.

Taking any player in the first round comes with a significant risk. Trading away multiple things to do so amplifies that risk.

"You have to be like convinced that's the guy," Fitterer said of the prospect of making a trade "If you give up all those assets, and you (don't hit on the pick), it's hard to recover. I mean, it takes couple of years to recover."

The Panthers believe they've at least created a situation where it's possible for a drafted quarterback to succeed, specifically as it pertains to the coaching staff. From Reich to senior assistant Jim Caldwell to quarterbacks coach Josh McCown to passing game coordinator Parks Frazier and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, the Panthers have created an ecosystem with a number of valuable perspectives.

And that has opened Fitterer's mind to some possibilities beyond what might have been obvious.

"That's one thing. I have a lot of faith in our staff if we do take a project and we do take someone that is more developmental," he said. "We have the right people in that room working with them every day. We have a Josh McCown, who's not far off from playing, that can talk to him like a player sees a player. We have the veterans in that room that can surround him."

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.

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