Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to miss four to six weeks after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Friday’s preseason finale versus the Buffalo Bills, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Head coach Matt Rhule confirmed Saturday that Darnold's MRI showed he has a "significant" injury that could take some time to heal.
At the time he left the field, he had completed 5 of 11 passes for 49 yards.
Darnold's injury complicates any exit plan the team may have had for him in the aftermath of naming Mayfield the leader under center, but it also adds another problem to contend with in a quarterback room that has thinned in recent weeks.
Carolina entered training camp with a competition between Mayfield and Darnold, plus the luxury of giving 2022 third-rounder Matt Corral a redshirt season.
It exits camp with Corral having suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury and Darnold on the shelf for at least the first quarter of the regular season.
P.J. Walker, who is entering his third season with the Panthers and started one game each in 2020 and 2021, was originally the odd man out in the QB room. Now, he figures to make the roster as Mayfield's backup.
"Obviously, we have two quarterbacks," Rhule said. "Normally, we would go into the season with two. Sam, I think he will be back, it's just a matter of how many weeks it is. Like every position, we'll look at every option; (general manager) Scott (Fitterer) does a great job of that. We spend a lot of time training these guys in this particular offense, and we'll just continue to build off of what we done."
Despite the diminished depth, the Panthers should be enjoying a confidence boost in their new No. 1 following their matchup against the Bills. Mayfield looked sharp in his limited work Friday, going 9-of-15 passing for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
By the time Darnold heals from his ankle injury, the Panthers will have a good idea of how Mayfield's triumph in August has translated to the regular season.