Scott Fowler: Panthers had to dump Teddy Bridgewater, but will Sam Darnold really be any better?

Sam Darnold (14) of the New York Jets makes a pass against the New England Patriots in the first half at Gillette Stadium on January 3, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Kathryn Riley/Getty Images/TNS)
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Scott Fowler The Charlotte Observer (TNS)

The Great Teddy Bridgewater Experiment ended as many “great” experiments do on Wednesday, with a tacit admission of failure by the Carolina Panthers and a quickie divorce on the eve of the NFL draft.

Signed amid pomp and circumstance a year ago to a three-year, $63-million contract, Bridgewater could only bridge the Panthers’ troubled waters for a single season before he got traded Wednesday. The Panthers were so desperate to get out of his contract that they will now pay him millions to go away. Carolina only got a sixth-round draft choice from Denver out of this deal, and will still be paying $7 million to Bridgewater this season (the Broncos will pay him just $3 million) as he relocates to Colorado for 2021.

In other words, it was an expensive divorce for the Panthers. The money part of it looks bad, and it is bad.

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And you know what? Bridgewater wasn’t really that bad last season, especially if you only counted the first three quarters of games. This wasn’t the second coming of Jimmy Clausen. Bridgewater set an all-time completion record for the Panthers (69.1) in 2020. His teammates loved him. He won a league-wide sportsmanship award.

Carolina’s problems in 2020 went far deeper than Bridgewater’s 0-for-8 close-game performance in fourth quarters. Yes, he made a number of horrible last-minute decisions. But Bridgewater also got a bit of a raw deal: No Christian McCaffrey; a revolving-door offensive line; no help in a couple of games when he actually did play well enough to win.

Still, the Panthers needed to make this move. As I wrote two weeks ago, a Bridgewater trade would be the closest thing the Panthers could get to a win-win at this point. Bridgewater gets another new beginning — and he might actually start in Denver at some point — and the Panthers get to begin trying to extricate themselves from salary-cap jail once again.

The timing of the Bridgewater leak, first reported by NFL Network, was curious. It came only a few minutes after the Panthers had announced they were changing the surface at Bank of America Stadium from grass to artificial turf — a move that basically no NFL player, or pro soccer player for that matter, is ever going to applaud. Players universally prefer natural grass, believing it to be a safer surface.

Within minutes, though, that piece of unfortunate news got buried, overshadowed by the headlines from the Bridgewater trade.

The writing had been on the wall for this one since Carolina traded three draft picks for 23-year-old Sam Darnold — the strong-armed, inconsistent quarterback of the New York Jets — on April 5. Bridgewater’s agents were given permission to do the legwork of seeking a trade for their client, who the Panthers certainly didn’t want to pay $23 million to be a backup.

So the next step of the Panthers’ continuing, post-Cam QB saga is to select another one in the NFL draft sometime in the next three days. No matter where the new QB is picked (and it might be Justin Fields at No. 8 overall), he will be a lot less expensive than Bridgewater, who is still a $17-million dead cap hit this year for Carolina. The trade gave Carolina a net saving of $6 million, according to The Observer’s Alaina Getzenberg. In 2022, though, Bridgewater will be off the books.

Of course, in 2022, we also may be writing about the Panthers moving on from Darnold, just as they moved on from Bridgewater, just as they moved on from Newton. What this team wouldn’t give to have the QB problem solved! Maybe Darnold is the solution, but his Jets stats would argue otherwise.

As for Bridgewater:

Teddy, we hardly knew ye, and I mean that quite literally.

Because of COVID-19 and the way reporters were understandably kept away from players this past year, I never actually said hello to Bridgewater in person over the entire season, much less shook his hand. I saw him only via Zoom. And in those many news conferences, I did gain great respect for the man and the way he handled himself after losses and in adverse situations, of which there were plenty.

I hope this trade works out for Bridgewater, and for the Panthers. I hope everyone involved gets their QB issues solved.

But given the recent history for all parties, I sure wouldn’t count on it.

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