How the No. 1 pick changes Panthers’ QB strategy … and what’s next for the Bears
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One of the pressing questions of the early NFL offseason was answered emphatically on Friday, when the Chicago Bears dealt the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft to the Carolina Panthers for a package including wide receiver DJ Moore, two first-round picks (2023 and 2024) and two second-round picks (2023 and 2025).
The move marked the first time since 2016, when the Los Angeles Rams moved up to select quarterback Jared Goff, that the No. 1 pick was dealt prior to draft day.
The move resets the draft strategy for both teams and could dramatically change the landscape for quarterback-hungry teams selecting in the top 10. The top two betting favorites to be the No. 1 pick as of Friday night were former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (-225) and former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (+175), according to Caesars Sportsbook.
NFL reporters David Newton and Courtney Cronin offer details on what the megadeal could mean for both Carolina and Chicago heading into the April 27-29 draft, and beyond.
What does this deal mean for the Panthers?
This means Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Kentucky’s Will Levis will be Carolina’s starting quarterback at some point in 2023, maybe even Week 1. While Carolina hasn’t settled on one of the three at this point, according to a source with direct knowledge of trade talks, it would be a hard sell to go with Florida’s Anthony Richardson, who is considered more of a project.
But having control of the top pick assures that general manager Scott Fitterer and coach Frank Reich will get their preferred quarterback to work with the staff of Reich, senior assistant Jim Caldwell and first-year quarterbacks coach Josh McCown.
The early favorites for No. 1 are Young and Stroud, who both seemed to impress the Carolina staff most at the NFL combine, particularly Young.
“He’s just like chill,” Fitterer said of the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, whose only real drawback is size (5-foot-10, 204 pounds). “Nothing’s too big for him.”
A quarterback operating on a rookie deal will give Carolina room to continue building the rest of the roster. A veteran such as Jimmy Garoppolo or Sam Darnold could also be added if the money is right, though there’s a chance the midlevel quarterback market could become too steep for the Panthers’ liking.
The pick should also energize a fan base that has become weary with a three-year shuffle of retreads including Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. It gives the organization hope it has the player who can scale (and eventually exceed) similar heights to Cam Newton, the top pick of the 2011 draft who won 2015 NFL MVP honors and led Carolina to a Super Bowl.
Look for the Panthers to be active at wide receiver in free agency, given Moore’s departure. A source with direct knowledge of trade talks said the team was not thrilled with losing Moore, but surrendering him prevented Carolina from sending an additional first-round pick to the Bears. Carolina could also look to upgrade the tight end position to assist its likely new quarterback. The Panthers haven’t had a true receiving tight end since Greg Olsen in 2019.
Bottom line, this means the franchise quarterback that owner David Tepper has desired since purchasing the team in 2018 finally is within his grasp.
— David Newton
What does this deal mean for the Bears?
Dealing the draft’s top selection reaffirms Chicago’s belief in quarterback Justin Fields, who doesn’t have to wonder if the Bears will take one of the bright QB prospects with the No. 1 pick. It backs up what second-year general manager Ryan Poles has been saying all along, that Fields displayed enough improvement in his second year to be considered a potential franchise quarterback.
And this trade allows Poles and coach Matt Eberflus to upgrade the talent level around Fields.
Acquiring wide receiver DJ Moore, who turns 26 on April 14, improves Chicago’s receiving corps. Moore, Carolina’s first-round pick in 2018 and the No. 24 selection overall, finished his time with the Panthers as the fourth-leading receiver in franchise history. In six seasons, he totaled 5,201 yards on 364 receptions and scored 21 touchdowns. He put together three 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2019 to ’21 and posted a career-high seven touchdowns last season.
Those numbers are better than those of the top wide receivers available in free agency, a group highlighted by New England’s Jakobi Meyers and Kansas City’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Adding a receiver in a year when the depth in free agency and the draft isn’t great was a strong move, especially considering the Bears’ current WR group of Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown and Velus Jones Jr.
Chicago now has four selections in the top 64 and 10 total draft picks. The Bears can still get a high-impact player with the ninth overall selection, but the likelihood of adding the draft’s top defensive prospect feels out of reach. Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson did not make it past Arizona at No. 3 in the recent mock draft of ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay.
It’s possible the Bears consider drafting Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9 to fill a critical need with their interior pass rush, but the situation around Carter — who recently was considered the top player in the draft — is unclear after he was charged on March 1 with reckless driving and racing in connection with a crash that killed a Georgia teammate and recruiting staff member.
With needs up front on offense and defense, Chicago could look to Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski. McShay had the Bears trading twice and taking Skoronski with the No. 7 pick. If Skoronski makes it to No. 9, he could be another player to help Fields’ development.
Chicago has a considerable gap between No. 9 and its second-round selection at No. 53, which it acquired from Baltimore after trading linebacker Roquan Smith last November. The Bears’ own second-round selection (No. 32) went to Pittsburgh in the Claypool trade.
Finding a way to make up a 44-pick gap might be Poles’ next challenge.
— Courtney Cronin
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