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To make a big move, Panthers needed the right staff

Frank Reich

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers didn't hire all these teachers to not have them teach.

Now, they know they're going to have a bright young pupil — in fact, the top of the class.

According to multiple reports, the Panthers made their first bold move of the 2023 offseason Friday, reaching a deal on a trade with the Bears to get the first overall pick in this year's draft.

Per those reports, the Panthers are giving up this year's first-rounder (ninth overall) and the second-rounder acquired from the 49ers (61st), along with their 2024 first-rounder, their 2025 second-rounder, and wide receiver DJ Moore to get to the top spot. Clearly, that's a steep price. (The deal can't be made official until the start of the league year next Wednesday since it reportedly involves a player under contract.) But the Panthers have cycled through so many players at quarterback since injuries derailed Cam Newton's career that they decided now was the time to buy.

The move came together quickly this week, but was likely coming as soon as owner David Tepper chose head coach Frank Reich, and he started putting together his staff.

Reich was able to lure Jim Caldwell out of his coaching hiatus, bringing the revered quarterback mentor who was Peyton Manning's position coach to come here as a senior assistant.

He was able to land Rams run game coordinator Thomas Brown in as offensive coordinator, bringing a respected young member of the House of McVay here to modernize the offense.

He was able to convince Josh McCown to begin his (pro) coaching journey here, bringing the longtime NFL backup quarterback back to one of his many old homes.

Along with passing game coordinator Parks Frazier, longtime receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, and others including assistant head coach Duce Staley, the Panthers haven't had this kind of firepower on the offensive coaching staff in years, if ever.

In short, they created the condition for success on that side of the ball. But it matters less without the guy on the field to build it around. And now, they have a shot at that player to justify all those coaches they have to help him.

"That was one of the things sitting down with Mr. Tepper, early on, that we just were committed to do," Reich said at the combine. "We were going to commit to doing whatever it took to hire the best staff that we could. He stood behind me on that. Gave us the money we needed to sign some of the coaches that we needed to sign. Talking about quarterback coach, you got Josh McCown, 17 years. Josh and I have been talking about this for a little bit, really excited to get him. I'm very excited to get Parks Frazier as our pass game coordinator. I just think he's an incredibly bright young mind. His future is very, very bright.

"Then Thomas Brown as our offensive coordinator. Through the interview process, Thomas just, he blew us all away. He's a guy I really hadn't had much exposure to. Talking to him, he's the kind of leader and the kind of mind that I think is really going to set up well for our quarterback."

When Reich said that, he had no idea who that quarterback was going to be. And honestly, he still doesn't, as they have time to continue to consider the options, to study, to analyze, and to take their best shot at getting it right. Reich is not a coach who does things in a knee-jerk manner. Ask him a question, and he'll often nod, tilt his head, look into the middle distance, and say, "I need to process that."

Now, he has a month and a half to process the most important decision possible.

Friday's move was a big one, but it's a step in the process that began weeks ago when they started shaping this offensive staff.

They still don't know who that quarterback is going to be. One of the group that includes Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson will be theirs for the taking (unless they trade again). But it puts them in a position to pick the guy who could change the game here.

It's been a long time since the Panthers have been able to have this kind of anticipation for a draft, at least as it pertains to quarterbacks. They haven't used many picks at all, and no first-rounders, since taking Newton first overall in 2011. From Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfield (and eventually back to Darnold last year), the Panthers have been stop-gapping the position for the last four years.

Of course, it's a costly proposition. They're giving up a lot to make this move. But finding the potential answer at quarterback was a priority, and now they have a shot.

The plan is that with all they've invested in coaches to develop him, the price will be worth it, because now the Panthers have something they haven't had at the most important position on the field in some time.

Hope.

But more importantly, they have a system of support in place around that hope, so that it might turn into something more tangible.

Here's a look at some of the top quarterbacks in this year's class, including Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis.

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