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Matt Rhule: Adding Sam Darnold represents another key part

Sam Darnold tunnel

CHARLOTTE – There's a reason the Panthers took active measures to acquire Sam Darnold.

But head coach Matt Rhule made it clear Monday that even though a quarterback was an important piece, it was just one piece.

During his first press conference since the team traded for Darnold last week, Rhule praised the talents Darnold brings to the position, but also emphasized the importance of not giving away high picks this year to do so. General manager Scott Fitterer said last week that giving up any of this year's top three picks (eighth, 39th, and 73rd overall) wasn't anything the team was interested in, which led them to give up a sixth-round pick this year, plus their second- and fourth-rounders next year to finalize the deal.

"Quarterback is an unbelievably important position, probably the most important position in the game of football. But I also believe that one man can't do it alone," Rhule said.

Rhule went on to reference Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells winning with multiple quarterbacks, and the large number of Hall of Fame quarterbacks (or guys who will end up there) who only won or made it to the final game once.

"What we're trying to do is we're trying to build a team," Rhule said. "We're trying to build an offense and a defense, and not mortgage the future for maybe like one player. Look at the history of trading up. Is it good, is it bad, everyone has to decide that? So we recognize that quarterback play is really important, but . . . I still want to be better on defense, I still want to be better on the offensive line, I still want to be better in the passing game. It's a hot topic at a lot of different places, but when you go back and look at Super Bowl winners and Super Bowl participants, a lot of different quarterbacks have taken teams to that place that is our ultimate goal.

"So it always makes me say to myself, coach Parcells was right, one guy can't do it. You have to build a team and put resources around those quarterbacks to be successful."

The economic and draft capital investment in Darnold's a reasonable one, which comes during an active offseason in which the Panthers made some aggressive moves to fill holes on both sides of the ball. They added offensive line depth early in free agency (though, as Rhule mentioned, that remains a priority), and stacked up a collection of interesting parts on defense, including pass-rusher Haason Reddick, cornerback A.J. Bouye, linebacker Denzel Perryman and others.

Rhule mentioned that with those holes filled, they'll have a flexibility come draft weekend to use their top pick on the best player available.

In a perfect world, Rhule wouldn't be presiding over top 10 picks often, so he said it was important to find the best player possible rather than worrying about needs.

Rhule has some background with Darnold, as the two spoke by videoconference when Rhule interviewed for the Jets' head coaching job in 2019. But that was a brief conversation, and the two met face-to-face for the first time Monday. What convinced Rhule that Darnold would work here was a look back at his tape. Before making the deal, the Panthers went back and looked at three years of Darnold's work, and Rhule came away convinced that there was still development to be done.

"I think when you see his arm talent, I don't think there's a game you can watch that he doesn't make a play that makes you say, 'There it is,'" Rhule said. "He can fit the ball into tight windows. He can create with his feet. He moves around a ton. He creates plays with his legs, extends plays with his legs.

"You can see and feel his grittiness. I think his arm talent and movement are a great fit for the players here that he'll be playing with."

Rhule didn't delve too deeply into the situation with incumbent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, largely because his future is unresolved. Rhule acknowledged that the Panthers have given Bridgewater the opportunity to look for another team.

"I think we just have to let that play out and see where it stands," Rhule said. "I think you guys all know how I feel about Teddy as a professional and a person. I think he can win as a quarterback in this league. I believe he can move the ball and do good things. I believe whatever situation he walks into, he's going to walk into with a good attitude.

"But in terms of what will happen, we'll have to wait and see how things play out over the coming weeks, for him and for us."

For now, the Panthers have found a quarterback they think can help them win, and fit into the greater project they're working on.

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