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Panthers GM Makes Surprising Decision On QB Sam Darnold

New York Jets QB Sam Darnold warming up before a game.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on December 9, 2018 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

When the Carolina Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets earlier this year, the belief was that he was their new franchise quarterback, at least for the short-term. We may have jumped to a conclusion much too soon.

Darnold's current rookie contract includes a fifth-year option for the 2022 season. It was previously believed the Panthers would pick up said option, keeping the former USC star in Carolina for at least the next two seasons. That may not be the plan.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer admitted of Friday his organization won't decide on Darnold's fifth-year option until after next week's 2021 NFL Draft. That could be a clear sign of Carolina's long term plan with Darnold and the quarterback unit.

The Panthers will select eighth overall next week. If they use the pick on a quarterback prospect, it'll tell us everything we need to know about Darnold's future.

It looks like Sam Darnold can't get too comfortable just yet. His stay in Carolina may be short-lived. The real question is will a top-tier quarterback prospect still be available when the Panthers make their pick at No. 8? It's practically a lock the first three picks of the 2021 NFL Draft will be quarterbacks. No. 4 could also be used on a signal-caller, depending on what the Atlanta Falcons do with the pick. There's five elite quarterback prospects in this year's class. If four are gone by pick No. 5, it's going to be a fight to acquire the last available. The Panthers could become involved in a bidding war, depending on how things shake out. Regardless, Darnold has legitimate reason to believe he may not be with the Panthers beyond the 2021 season. Luckily, we won't have to wait much longer to discover Carolina's quarterback plan. [

Scott Fitterer said the decision on picking up Sam Darnold's fifth-year option will come after the draft. "We have a strong plan in place,'' the Panthers GM said.

— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) April 23, 2021

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