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Panthers entering draft with options "open"

Cole Spencer, Scott Fitterer, Dan Morgan

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers know they're going to have a shot at an elite player with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft — but they're keeping all their options open.

They also know they need to add a quarterback at some point, since they only have two on the roster — but they're keeping all their options open.

Apparently, they're going into the weekend with options that are, wait for it, open.

General manager Scott Fitterer didn't break much ground during the annual pre-draft press conference, but he did reestablish the Panthers' need to have "flexibility" since they have a couple of big needs and only one pick in the first two days of the draft.

So while he was asked a lot about the possibility of drafting a quarterback, he didn't commit to it. He did mention that there were veteran options available, but that he wouldn't deal with those until after the draft. That was as close as we got to new information (though that was also reasonably obvious, since they only have Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker on the roster, and league rules prevent teams from discussing players on other rosters).

"We've talked about it since the season; we want to stabilize the quarterback position. We need consistent play out of that," Fitterer said. "I sat down with Sam yesterday, and we talked about everything. We need to help him out as well. We need to help him out with the offensive line. I think we've done a good job keeping DJ Moore here and Christian McCaffrey, and surrounding him with talent, so he doesn't feel like he has to make every play. And we do have to protect him.

"In our conversation, I said, hey, listen, we are going to add to this group. Through this weekend, there's a pretty good chance we could add to this group. It's an open competition. It's his spot right now, but whoever can take this spot and run with it, we're going to do that. He was good with it, we're all on the same page, and we know we need to stabilize that position. And we're looking forward to adding to it."

Fitterer wouldn't get into the particulars of the adding, meaning they have options (open ones), whether it's in the first round, or making more moves. By making five trades last year, he developed a reputation of being willing to deal, so his phone has been ringing. He said there have been a few solid inquiries about the sixth pick, but he wasn't going to trade just to add bulk, as they did with an 11-man draft class last year.

The job is complicated by the fact they're short on picks this year, with a gulf between the sixth pick, and the 137th. Barring a trade (and again, all options are open), the Panthers will then go three times quickly, choosing again at 144 and 149.

Considering they've built a draft board that college scouting director Cole Spencer said had 156 names on it, that's going to require them to think on their feet after a long layoff. Fitterer mentioned the "meat of the draft" was between the 25th and 50th-ranked players on their board, but they don't have a pick in that range now.

"Whether we're picking two or 137, we don't know what we're going acquire in between either, so we have to be prepared at every level and every pick with who we want," Fitterer said.

He made several references to recent upgrades in technology for the scouting staff, and said they have a "pick six" system which shows an ordered list of the next clump of prospects that refreshes throughout the weekend. That allows the core group making the decisions — Fitterer, head coach Matt Rhule, owner David Tepper, Spencer, assistant GM Dan Morgan, and vice president of player personnel Pat Stewart — to see what's coming at a glance.

"The next six players that we'd take at any pick are right on the board, in the order that we'd take them," Fitterer said. "What that does, it takes out a lot of the confusion. A lot of that is done as we're sitting up front. We'll be up there constantly tinkering on that pick-six board, and that way, if they are back-to-back-to-back picks, we know exactly who we're taking as it goes.

"It also helps us identify, how many players do we have? If all six are there, we could always trade back three or four or five spots and be assured we're going to get one of those players."

That was the voice of a man who has done this before, and whose options are open.

View photos from the weight room and the Atrium Health Dome as the Panthers continue offseason workouts on Thursday.

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