3. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers (2023 free agent)
The Denver Broncos saw Sam Darnold up-close-and-personal last season when they took a trip to Carolina. Unlike the Drew Lock game against the Panthers in 2020, this particular matchup went in favor of the Panthers with Darnold making some of the best throws we’ve seen from him as a pro.
Is that hyperbole? I don’t think so, he was out there dropping dimes in that game.
Darnold helped the Panthers’ resurgence there at the end of the 2022 season as the team finished 6-6 under interim coach Steve Wilks. The Panthers were 4-2 with Darnold at the helm and he managed to throw seven touchdowns with only three interceptions in those six starts.
It was a smaller sample size, of course, but Darnold’s six games in 2022 included his best touchdown percentage (5.0) and best interception percentage (2.1) as a professional. Darnold is still just 25 years old and the talent is obviously there for him.
Just like Jameis Winston once upon a time, Darnold needs a bit of reining in when it comes to being careless with the ball. He’s been prone to turnovers dating back to his time at USC. Like I said before, Sean Payton took a guy in Jameis Winston who threw 30 interceptions in 2019 to being on pace for 50 touchdowns two years later.
From Darnold’s perspective, the chance to work with a coach like Payton and have him help with his craft has got to be appealing, especially because teams aren’t likely going to be lining up to have him as a starter this offseason. Darnold is going to have to swallow his pride, sign as a backup, and hope for the best.
It’s hard to think of a better situation than Denver now with Sean Payton, and we don’t even yet know the rest of his offensive staff.