CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers showed how committed they were to Sam Darnold in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft by not picking a quarterback, and backed that up Friday morning by picking up his fifth-year option.
With the option, Darnold, recently acquired in a trade with the New York Jets, is guaranteed $18.8 million in 2022.
The expected decision came after the Panthers selected South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn with the eighth pick while Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones still were on the board.
“I’m not going to talk about other players,” coach Matt Rhule said when asked if there was discussion about drafting Fields with the eighth pick. “We brought Sam here for a reason. We’re excited to see what he can do. We’re excited to give him an opportunity.
“We traded for him because we believe in his potential.”
Darnold was the No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft, but he never lived up to expectations with the Jets, going 13-25 in his three seasons with the team, with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. New York drafted BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick on Thursday night.
The move came a day after the Panthers also picked up the fifth-year option on wide receiver DJ Moore.
Under terms of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, the 2022 salaries for players selected in the first round of the 2018 draft become fully guaranteed at the time the options are exercised. In the past, the salary on the fifth-year options was guaranteed for injury only and didn’t become fully guaranteed until the first day of the new league year.
Darnold replaces Teddy Bridgewater, who was traded to Denver on Wednesday for a sixth-round pick a year after receiving a three-year, $63 million deal. The former Southern California star will lead a quarterback room in Carolina that includes 2019 third-round pick Will Grier, former XFL star P.J. Walker and 2020 seventh-round pick (by New Orleans) Tommy Stevens.
The Panthers felt a much bigger need to draft a press corner over more competition for Darnold. That’s why they went with Horn, the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn.
“If you go back to last year, there were times we just couldn’t get off the field [defensively],” Rhule said of Horn. “In the NFC South, with the big receivers we have to deal with … [Horn’s] got 33-inch arms, he’s 6-1, ran a 4.3 , jumped 42 inches. He’s a rare physical specimen who also has the pedigree that’s hard to find.”