The Carolina Panthers entered the 2020 NFL season with the highest turnover percentage in the league from the previous year, and while the number of new players with the Panthers may not be quite has high this upcoming season, there could be some vast changes in 2021.
And it could all start with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.
There’s much speculation about whether Carolina will draft a quarterback with the eighth pick in the NFL Draft in April, or if the Panthers will try and trade up to get a quarterback. Then again, they could also stand pat and select the best player available, but they could also trade for a player or sign one in free agency.
“I think we’ll see what happens moving forward,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “Teddy’s here, I have a lot of respect (for him). I believe in what he can do. I’ve seen glimpses and flashes of us as an offense looking really good. …
“In regards to the draft and players and all those things, we’ll look at every opportunity to have the best we can have at every position, and that includes quarterback.”
But before those scenarios present themselves, Carolina, which finished 5-11, will likely first hire a general manager.
There are a multitude of reasons why the future of Bridgewater with the Panthers is being called into question.
Bridgewater, who stands to make $23 million next season, didn’t exactly excite the fanbase with this often-timid and highly conservative play, or owner David Tepper and coach Matt Rhule.
It’s not that Bridgewater, who entered this NFL season as a starter for the first time since his horrific leg injury in 2016 in Minnesota, was bad, it’s just that he wasn’t great, with some questioning if he was even good.
Some of those questioning his year-long performance and whether Bridgewater is the answer going froward are also likely the decision makers with the Panthers.
“Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason,” Rhule said. “It’s been a long time since he’s played an entire year. And part of being a quarterback in this league is being able to withstand the physical toll of the season and playing your best football at the end of the year. I don’t know if I’ve seen that from him, so my encouragement for him has been to have a great offseason.”
The positives surrounding Bridgewater are that everybody likes him, including local media which gave him the Nice Guy Award this year, he rarely gets rattled, he’s calm, a solid team leader, respected and he doesn’t generally put the ball in harm’s way.
He also finished with just 11 interceptions, two of which came in the final game, and had a completion percentage of 69.1, which ranked fifth in the NFL.
However, his performance over the last five games took a turn for the worse. And if some were securely in his corner beforehand, many afterwards were suspect.
Bridgewater finished with just 15 passing touchdowns and to put that into perspective, 10 other quarterbacks in the league had at least 30. Moreover, Bridgewater had 11 interceptions, tied for ninth most, to go along with a 92.1 passer rating that ranked 21st.
But the Bridgewater and the team’s big downfall this year offensively was its lack of scoring touchdowns once inside the opposition’s red zone.
The Panthers ranked 28th by scoring touchdowns in the red zone just 50.88 percent of the time.
When asked following the Carolina’s final game on whether or not he’d earned the right to be starting quarterback next season, Bridgewater was his usual calm and polite self.
“In this business, everything is production based,” he said. “And of course, I have to be better. My production has to be better. I think, for the most part, we did a good job of keeping ourselves in the games.
“Of course, you want to be better in the red zone, and that’s an area that we have to be better at as a team. And of course, myself, I want to be better down there.”
Then there was the 0-for-8 in chances to either win or tie the game in the team’s final drive of the game.
Having only one touchdown pass all season in the fourth quarter certainly didn’t help the situation.
Barring a trade, Bridgewater is expected to be on the team next season as it’s too expensive for the Panthers to cut him. But just what his role on the team will be is the burning question.
“Who knows what tomorrow will bring,” he said. “I just approach that situation when it comes. It’s one of those deals where this is my team and I’m going to conduct myself that way.
“We have a great group of guys in that locker room who look toward me for leadership. I just want to continue to do a great job of being the leader I can be and everything else will fall into place.”