The Carolina Panthers (yes, that’s their real name) had a rough start to their first season in the NFL, leaving fans of the team wondering how the organization were going to turn things around. The team’s general manager, Marty Hurney, is a veteran of the league, having last been GM with the Atlanta Falcons. His job title with the Panthers is “Chief Strategy Officer”, and he’s spent the past few weeks inking the most lucrative contract in NFL history for his franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold.

The Carolina Panthers have locked up the top receiver in the NFL in Adam Thielen, for the next two years and $54 million. On the surface, this is a fair deal, but not good enough when you consider the circumstances. The Vikings are in cap hell, they were overpaying their other receivers (like Stefon Diggs) and Thielen is a good but not great receiver. He has made it this far in spite of his limitations, but his contract is no longer keeping him afloat, and he doesn’t have a lot of leverage.

As fans of the New York Jets can attest, management did not do a good job building a team around Sam Darnold. After all, former general manager Mike McCagnan did him no favors by neglecting the offensive line for years. Fortunately for Darnold, his new team seems willing to do anything to help him succeed.

The Carolina Panthers made an expensive move Thursday to ensure their new quarterback has a legitimate chance to turn his career around. But even after an expensive investment with a small lead, that doesn’t mean the Panthers have what it takes to make the playoffs in 2021.

Sam Darnold will be a crucial year in 2021

The Jets thought they had found a franchise quarterback when they selected Darnold as No. 3 in 2018. But the former UCLA star couldn’t live up to expectations in New York.

Darnold’s play in his rookie season often drew more grumbling than applause. He completed just 57.7% of his passes for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 13 starts. He took 30 shots and posted a disappointing score of 4-9. Needless to say, he didn’t have the best start in New York.

Unfortunately, the next two years didn’t go much better for Darnold. Of course, he’s bumped up his numbers a bit in 2019. But the Jets certainly expected more than 19 touchdowns from the player drafted third overall a year ago. Darnold also dropped 11 balls in 13 games, which didn’t allay fears about his propensity to intercept.

The 2020 season has gone as well as could be expected for the California native. Not only did he go 2-10 as a starter, but he also threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9). While the Jets deserve criticism for not surrounding Darnold with a strong support staff, he certainly had a disappointing performance on the field in his final season with the franchise.

The 5th. In April, the Panthers took advantage of Darnold’s untapped potential by trading 2022 second and fourth round picks, as well as a sixth round pick, for the talented fraternity player. With his contract expiring after the 2022 season, he is under tremendous pressure to end his career soon. If he doesn’t play well in 2021, Darnold will have a hard time convincing a team to invest in him.

The Panthers hired Taylor Moton for $72 million. That could change the career of their new quarterback.

Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold passes to Steven Sullivan during a mandatory mini-camp at Bank of America Stadium on the 15th. June 2021, high-five. | Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Fortunately for Darnold, his new team has ensured that a significant portion of his defensive team will remain with the Carolinas for years to come. And the Panthers needed significant funding to ensure that the right-back position would continue to be a strength of the team in the future.

Adam Schefter ofESPN reported via Twitter that Taylor Moton has agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $72 million, $43 million of which is guaranteed. The Panthers had until Thursday, 15. July, 4:00. It’s time to hire their right-hand man. Moton, who was expected to play under the franchise in the 2021 season, has instead secured long-term financial security by agreeing to a contract that will cement his status as one of the best players at his position.

By keeping the 6-foot-9, 325-pound offensive lineman in Carolina until 2025 at the last minute, the Panthers showed they were willing to pay a high price to protect Darnold. The left back position has not been filled yet, but Moton should secure the right back position in the near future. The 2017 second-round pick is a solid, reliable and physically strong player who has allowed just three sacks in 1,032 offensive snaps in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. Moton has the physical attributes to dominate his opponent. Signing another four-year contract for him will only benefit Darnold and the rest of the offensive players.

Can Darnold get Carolina back into the playoffs?

.

If Moton can justify his $72 million contract, the Panthers are in good shape offensively. How far the team gets in 2021, of course, depends on what Darnold does on the field.

The loser of the Jets’ draft has a chance to prove the doubters wrong, simply because he has assembled the best talent around him. While Carolina’s offensive line is certainly not elite, this group should be at least a step better than what Darnold had in New York. At the same time, he’ll be able to throw balls to an array of athletic receivers, including 2018 first-round pick D.J. Moore, 2021 second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. and former Jets teammate Robbie Anderson. In addition, Ian Thomas and third-round pick Tommy Tremblay are expected to play the passing game from the tight end position.

Most importantly, Darnold will benefit from an elite defender who will take some of the burden off his shoulders. As long as Christian McCaffrey is healthy, second-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady has one of the most versatile playmakers in the NFL at his disposal. Expect McCaffrey to get a lot of touches as the centerpiece of Carolina’s offense.

With all this talent, the Panthers still don’t seem like playoff contenders.

Finally, their defense should also take a big step forward. Can a team that ranks 18th in points scored and yards stopped make the top 10? Carolina has several talented young players on that side of the ball, including linebacker Brian Burns, defensive tackle Derrick Brown and cornerback Jaycee Horn. However, it remains to be seen if the youth movement will benefit a Panthers team that has seen veterans like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davies and James Bradberry leave in recent years.

But if Sam Darnold returns to his college form, Carolina can come away with an average defense.

But good luck finding people who were convinced this would happen.

All statistics are from Pro Football Reference.

COMPARED TO: Aaron Rodgers could get a much-needed gift from the Packers thanks to Bill Belichick

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