“We’re very open to moving back,” general manager Scott Fitterer said Friday in a pre-draft Zoom call with coach Matt Rhule. “It just depends on how the first seven picks go.”
Fitterer has been consistent since arriving at Carolina in January after 20 seasons with Seattle in saying that there’s usually a drop-off in the level of talent after the top 15 to 19 picks. He says it’s no different this year, adding he has 16 players with first-round grades on them.
Fitterer also has talked consistently about the value in building a championship team as Seattle did by trading back to pick up additional picks.
The best-case scenario for Carolina trading back would be if one or more of the top five quarterbacks falls to No. 8 because there would be more value for that pick.
For example, if Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields fell that far, there might be a handful of teams such as Denver at No. 9, Philadelphia (No. 12) and New England (No. 15) willing to give up multiple picks, possibly a first-rounder next year, to move into that slot.
The teams with the top three picks — Jacksonville, New York Jets and San Francisco — are expected to take quarterbacks. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence has been projected as the consensus top pick, with BYU’s Zach Wilson going second and Alabama’s Mac Jones or possibly Fields going third.
North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is the fifth quarterback with a first-round grade on him.
“We’ll have to take a look at the players that are available when we pick and how many of those players can help us that we’ve identified, how far we can trade back and still get one of those players without trading out of the [top] level,” Fitterer said. “We don’t want to trade out of a certain level where the talent dips.
“We know exactly where that is in this draft. We’ll see what the options are. We’re more than willing to listen to other teams, and if they want to offer picks and we can go back and get one of the players we want and get multiple picks to help build this team, that’s what we’ll do.”
The willingness to trade back and the addition of quarterback Sam Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft, through a trade with the Jets makes it unlikely the Panthers would take a quarterback at No. 8.
That Fitterer says the Panthers have a “very strong plan” concerning picking up Darnold’s fifth-year option and it has nothing to do with whom they take in the draft also is an indication a quarterback won’t be selected at No. 8.
The plan, a league source told ESPN after Carolina acquired Darnold, is to pick up the option.
Fitterer said there’s also a plan in place for whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on wide receiver DJ Moore, but he didn’t expand on it. Teams have until May 3 to make a decision.
Fitterer said the Panthers have had dialogue with Teddy Bridgewater, last year’s starting quarterback, who has been given permission to seek a deal with another team, and his agent.
“Teddy is part of our team right now,” Fitterer said.
The Panthers have whittled an initial list of several thousand players to 150 they are considering for the draft. Fitterer and Rhule also are comfortable that they won’t have to reach for a player at No. 8, should they stay there, based on need because of what was done in free agency.
Their primary needs are a left tackle, press corner, wide receiver and tight end.
“We’re just going to take the best player available,” Fitterer said. “That’s what we did in free agency.”