In a little while, the Carolina Panthers will do … something with the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft. And as Han Solo famously said, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
I may not have any idea what the Panthers do at the time. My cable is screwed up. Cable guy is supposed to be coming to fix it between 7:30 and 8:30. If you’ve ever waited on a cable guy, you know how that movie is likely to end. I can get NFL Network on my phone, but that tends to work best over wi-fi, and if my Internet is interrupted by the cable repair, well, there goes that, too.
The Panthers had the league’s worst record in 2010 and one of the worst performances from the QB position in league history. So, in a vacuum, simple logic would dictate that they draft the best available QB and not lose any sleep.
But drafting NFL players, particularly quarterbacks, is not a subject that submits willingly to simple logic. There often is no discernible connection between a player’s performance at the college level (and, thus, how high he goes in the draft) and in the NFL, where all the players are bigger, stronger, smarter and, above all, faster. (Malcolm Gladwell, in an article that isn’t really about the NFL at all, discusses this subject in some detail here.) Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who has thrown for 261 TDs and almost 35,000 yards in a career that may last several more years, was drafted in the 6th of seven rounds in 2000.
Moreover, the best college QB of 2010, the only potential draft pick at the position considered anything close to a lock to succeed in the NFL, is Andrew Luck of Stanford, and he, a rising senior, opted not to turn pro early.
That leaves Auburn’s Cam Newton as the best of the rest, which isn’t saying much. He is much more of a question mark, performance-wise, than Luck and has potential character issues to boot. That’s a problem with any potential pick, but given the amount of money a No. 1 overall pick can command, it’s a huge problem for the Panthers. Even QBs who do well eventually in the NFL may suck at the start, meaning the Panthers may have to give Newton big money for five or six years but even under the best of circumstances get only three or four big years out of him before he hits the free-agent market.
So the Panthers, with needs in addition to quarterback and, like all teams, facing an uncertain financial future until the issues behind the current lockout are resolved, may have to tie up a lot of money in one player of unproven worth and unproven dedication for years to come. I’ve suggested before that trading down for more picks to fill more needs might even be the wisest use of the pick. I don’t actually believe that, but if I knew where my next starting QB was coming from, or were more confident that Jimmy Clausen can turn into something approaching a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, I’d do it and not think twice.
In a perfect world, were I the Panthers’ GM, I might draft Newton but try to sign him to a backloaded contract heavy on incentives. Unfortunately, here in the real world, the market won’t let me do that with a No. 1 overall pick, and to the extent I have any sympathy at all for the owners in the lockout dispute, which isn’t much, that is why.
There’s an old saying in the NFL: Only three things can happen when you attempt a forward pass, and two of them are bad. But when you’re trailing late, it’s often your only option. Given last year’s record and the horrendous problems they have at QB, that’s pretty much where the Panthers seem to find themselves right now. The problem, of course, is that, like the Panthers late in so many of last year’s games, the Panthers brain trust seems to have no option tonight but to drop back, throw deep and hope for the best.
I’ve got to be home to let the cable guy in tonight. But under these circumstances, I’d much rather be watching the draft in a bar — and not just because my cable is out.