Are the Panthers tanking for Trevor Lawrence, failing for Justin Fields?

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Panthers won’t be a good team in 2020. Are they tanking for Trevor Lawrence of the Clemson Tigers or Justin Fields of the Ohio State Buckeyes?

You know who’s not winning the NFC South next year? The Carolina Panthers.

While all three of their division rivals made moves this offseason to get better, you can’t say the same thing for Carolina. This comes as no surprise, as owner David Tepper brought in elite college football program builder Matt Rhule to be the Panthers’ next head coach. Alongside his 30-something wunderkind offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the Panthers will eventually get it right.

However, this is a team that will win maybe five games again next year. The Panthers are releasing former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton, as they signed Teddy Bridgewater and P.J. Walker this offseason. They also dealt last year’s starter Kyle Allen to the Washington Redskins, reuniting him with former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

It’s still early in the process, but we know exactly what the Panthers are doing here. They are setting themselves up to tank for Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence or failing for Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields. These two rising junior signal-callers are expected to go No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Both are Georgia natives and A-prospects at quarterback.

Lawrence will be the most sought after quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck came out of Stanford University in 2012. Frankly, he’s probably a better pro prospect than Luck and every bit as good as Peyton Manning coming out of the University of Tennessee in 1998. It sounds crazy, but Lawrence may be the best quarterback draft prospect since John Elway left Stanford back in 1983.

Given that he stars collegiately in Panthers’ territory over in Clemson, this would be a move made in Carolina football heaven. He will be the sunshine to end the cloudy days hovering over the Panthers organization for the next year or so. If he’s as good as advertised, the Calhoun native will be every bit the player the former NFL MVP from College Park he will be effectively replacing.

Of course, the Panthers could go with the former Georgia Bulldog and current Buckeye Fields from Kennesaw. Though Jake Fromm beat him out of a job in 2018 in Athens, it was Fields who went to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a sophomore in 2019. A tad more shiftier and mobile than Lawrence, Fields could be a better version of Marcus Mariota or Robert Griffin II at the NFL level.

To land either Lawrence or Fields, Carolina will need to be picking in the top 10 bad again. The Panthers will have to trade up into the top two to land either signal-caller. But if they don’t tank as hard as we expect they will because Bridgewater is all about winning games, Carolina could still draft a home-state product in the top 10 in the form of Georgia’s Jamie Newman.

Newman was a top graduate transfer after his time playing for Dave Clawson’s Wake Forest Demon Deacons. If he lives up to the hype during his one year in Athens, Newman could force himself into the top 10. Even with comparable starting experience, Newman has more NFL Draft upside than the guy he’s replacing in Athens. Newman is a low-end possibility for Carolina.

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Ultimately, the Panthers need to do whatever it takes to assure itself it will be picking as high as possible in the 2021 NFL Draft. Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are still in the division. Bridgewater is good, but he’s the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC South. Lawrence, Fields and maybe even Newman could be the next Newton or Jake Delhomme in Charlotte. Just tank, baby!