The Panthers quickly fell in love with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater during the 2020 offseason. After only one year, the Panthers have quickly fallen out of love with Bridgewater.
The obvious takeaway from Carolina’s trade for quarterback Sam Darnold is that Bridgewater likely won’t be a Panther in 2021.
The problem for the Panthers is that the contract given to Bridgewater last year includes $10 million in fully-guaranteed salary for 2021, with another $7 million in non-guaranteed salary on top of that. Bridgewater would surely need to re-do his deal to facilitate a trade, but with $10 million in guaranteed pay, why would he?
There’s one important reason for considering a reduced salary. The Panthers could squat on Bridgewater and cut him in August, making it hard for him to land elsewhere with a real chance to contribute in 2021. By taking less now (maybe $12 million for the season and free agency in 2022), Bridgewater gets a landing spot and a chance to become fully ensconced.
The best two options for that kind of a trade would be the 49ers and the Broncos. San Francisco could make Bridgewater the starter until the rookie is ready, at dramatically less than the $25 million Jimmy Garoppolo is due to receive. Then, the 49ers could either trade or cut Garoppolo, saving millions in cap space and avoiding any potential locker-room issues as veterans line up behind the incumbent.
In Denver, former Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton is looking for a Drew Lock upgrade. Bridgewater was on the brink of a breakout in 2016 in Minnesota, before a fluke knee injury. Paton could be intrigued by the possibility of giving Bridgewater a chance to grow into the job with the Broncos while otherwise looking for a long-term fix — if they need one. (Bridgewater is still only 28.)
The Panthers have a real incentive to work out a trade given the possibility that, if Bridgewater is cut, he’ll end up in Tampa Bay, as the backup to Tom Brady. Last year, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said that his top targets at quarterback were Brady and then Bridgewater. If/when the Panthers dump Teddy, he could sign with the Bucs for the minimum of $1.075 million — and the Panthers would be on the hook for the remaining $8.925 million.
Thus, it makes plenty of sense for the Panthers to trade Bridgewater instead. It also could make sense for the Panthers to pay some of Bridgewater’s fully-guaranteed salary in order to get a late-round draft pick or two for Teddy.