The Carolina Panthers traded up to the No. 1 pick on March 10 so that they could control the 2023 NFL Draft. Now that they're in the proverbial "driver's seat," all they need to do is figure out which quarterback they're going to take.
"We wanted to be in position to get a quarterback," Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said during his news conference on Monday -- his first media session since the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Fitterer and head coach Frank Reich spoke to media on Monday, with each reinforcing the idea that the team did not execute the bold trade with the Chicago Bears with one single quarterback in mind. That selection process has been ongoing, and it will continue for some portion of the next 38 days until the draft kicks off.
"We have conviction on (multiple) players at the top that we feel good about," Fitterer said. "I'm not going to go into it, but we feel good about being in this position."
And this potentially is a big week for draft QB movement. Free agency has slowed considerably since the new league year began last Wednesday, especially at that position, and three of the four quarterback prospects roundly considered to be the best -- Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Kentucky's Will Levis -- all will be showcased at their pro days this week. Florida's Anthony Richardson will have his pro day on March 30.
The Carolina brass will be represented at all four. Reich added that he could imagine all four also being part of the Panthers' allotted 30 pre-draft prospect visits to the team's facility. However, they're clearly going into the final stretch with a leaderboard, even if it could change.
"We're still going through the process right now," Fitterer said. "Obviously, we have our ideas -- you're not going to make a move like that without having that pretty much cemented – but now we're going through the process of talking to players and really getting to know them.
"We had a snapshot at the combine where we had 18 minutes talking to them. But really, we want to get to know them, what drives them, who's supporting them, who's in their family, so this is an important time going through this process. But we do feel good about the group up top."
For what it's worth, Fitterer indicated that he's not received any calls on trading the first pick. In the hours following the deal with the Bears, reports indicated that Carolina was prepared to move back down in the draft if needed. All options likely remain open now, but Fitterer's admission might suggest that the Panthers will need to be prepared to make a selection at No. 1, no matter what else they glean about the quartet between now and when Round 1 starts on April 27.
Fitterer also said that Reich never put limitations on the type of quarterback they should covet. Reich has predominantly coached bigger pocket-type passers in the past, with a few exceptions. But that won't take, say, the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Young out of consideration.
"Don't read into that," Reich said about his past experience with taller QBs, noting that he had a good grade on the 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson coming out of college in 2012.
So what kind of quarterback is Reich seeking? He joked that revealing his criteria might be "like giving the proprietary formula for Kentucky Fried Chicken."
KFC's 11 herbs and spices recipe remains one of the universe's great unknowns. Reich listed nearly as many qualities he studies in prospective QBs, keeping that list as opaque as possible while explaining some of his methodology for the process. He twice put emphasis on finding playmakers.
"First and foremost we are looking for playmakers, and you look at everything," Reich said. "Every trait that a guy has, you weigh it. The thing is if there's 10 categories that you look at in a quarterback ... the real question is not how to evaluate each of those categories. But a big part of the question is how much are you going to weigh each one of those.
"Everything is a factor, but ultimately it really comes down to (them) being a playmaker. Being a guy who can make plays all over the field, and that happens a lot of different ways."
Reich also said that, no matter which rookie they select, the timetable will be dictated by that QB's readiness, not by the pressure to get them on the field immediately -- no matter what external pressure there might be to play the rookie. The Panthers signing veteran Andy Dalton allows them to move at a proper pace of development.
"You start the guy when he's ready," Reich said.
As for why the Panthers didn't consider franchised free agent Lamar Jackson, one of the league's more established playmakers, timing might have played a part, with the Bears having spoken to multiple teams about the first pick and seemingly wanting resolution prior to free agency.
Fitterer also seemed to suggest that the financial aspect was a driving force behind that decision to favor the draft -- and to make the bold and costly trade up to No. 1 overall prior to Carolina even being permitted to talk to Jackson.
"(Quarterbacks) are getting 35, 40 million (per year) now, so the demand for those rookies is going up," Fitterer said.
Fitterer called Jackson "a great option" but also "a really expensive option."
Now that the team has focused its quarterback attention on the draft, the pressure will be high to make the right decision, knowing that making the wrong one -- or not considering the Jackson option more thoroughly -- could set the franchise back significantly.
"There's going to be a lot of tough conversations, a lot of good conversations, and we're going to take it all in and make the best decision," Fitterer said.