BY IRA KAUFMAN
The right quarterback can make all the difference.
No one knows that better than Buc Nation. Bengal fans are also realizing how Joe Burrow’s writing has transformed a dismal franchise.
A lot of football eyes are on Deshaun Watson right now, for good reason.
He’s only 26 and last time he played, Watson ended up leading the NFL in passing yards for a lousy Houston team in 2020. For his career, the 104.5 passer rating of Watson is tied with Aaron Rodgers for No. 2 all-time behind Patrick Mahomes.
We are talking about an elite quarterback chosen as the 18th best player in the league in the vote of his peers after the 2020 season.
If Watson can work out his serious legal issues to the league’s satisfaction, and that’s a big if, the Bucs would likely have a strong interest in acquiring him through a trade. The Texans would demand substantial compensation in the form of several first-round picks and possibly even a veteran player.
The Bucs may not be willing to pay that price, but there’s another team in the Tampa Bay division ready to pounce.
The Carolina Panthers, coming off four straight losing seasons amid a quarterback carousel, are eager to change their miserable fortunes under center. Since 2018, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen and Cam Newton have totaled a 22-43 record that keeps obnoxious owner David Tepper up at night.
Tepper has more money than he can spend, but he doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring. When he attends NFL owners’ meetings, he sees on-field success all around him and asks a simple question: why not me?
The Panthers finished 5-12 last season after a 3-0 getaway, but there are a few basics. Christian McCaffrey played just seven games due to injury, crippling an offense that ranked 29th in points and 30th in yards. DJ Moore is a very productive wide receiver who would thrive more if Watson came on board.
Carolina ranked No. 2 in total defense with a slew of good young players.
The chronic problem in Charlotte is an offense that just scored 19 points or less 10 times in 17 games, mostly because no one respects Matt Ruhle’s passing game. He replaced offensive coordinator Joe Brady with Jeff Nixon late last season and now Ben McAdoo leads the offense.
There are new coaches for the offensive line, wide receivers and tight ends, but nothing will really change until Carolina finds a quarterback. With Darnold and Newton struggling last fall, the team’s 68.5 passer rating was last in the league.
The Panthers threw just 58% of their shots, with 14 TD passes and 21 interceptions, an NFL high.
This all changes dramatically if Watson arrives in Charlotte. There would be a slight backlash from the public based on Watson’s sexual misconduct allegations. but the victories have the gift of drowning the opponents.
If Aaron Rodgers returns to Green Bay and Seattle brings back Russell Wilson, Watson would emerge as the big draw behind door No. 2. It could come down to an NFC South showdown between the Bucs and Panthers for Watson’s services. His no-trade clause could be a factor in a potential deal – and it could favor the Bucs.
But make no mistake… Tepper will give this company its best shot.
The former hedge fund manager isn’t hedging his bets and he’s identified his primary target. Carolina and Houston were involved in talks for Watson last October when the Panthers went 3-4.
After last year’s debacle under center, the Panthers are even more desperate for a new face in the franchise.
It could get juicy – Tepper against the Glazers, competing for a three-time Pro Bowler entering the prime of his career.
Go big or go home.