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The Panthers shake up the NFL Draft with trade to No. 1 pick

The NFC South’s quarterback landscape will be totally different in May than it was in February.

NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The NFC South entered February with perhaps the least inspiring group of quarterbacks in the NFL. The Saints had Jameis Winston, the Panthers had P.J. Walker, Matt Corral, and Jacob Eason, the Buccaneers had Kyle Trask, and the Falcons had Desmond Ridder and Logan Woodside. You could talk yourself into Trask, Corral, and Ridder having some upside—it’s very possible the Bucs and Falcons have done just that—but the lack of experience and proven high-end talent meant was unlikely to last forever.

The first two dominoes have now fallen. Days after the Saints landed Derek Carr, giving their cap-strapped so-so franchise a better option than they had, the Panthers have made a blockbuster trade to move up to No. 1 in the 2023 NFL Draft. It cost them their top receiver, the 9th and 61st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, a 2024 first rounder, and a 2025 second rounder.

That’s a huge haul, but the Panthers are a team with enough pieces to be interesting and a new head coach with a reputation for doing good work with quarterbacks in Frank Reich. They seem tired of losing—I get that!—and seem convinced there’s two quarterbacks at the top of this class who would be good fits for them. They’re making a bold move to secure the future after it became pretty clear only one (if not zero) of the top four quarterbacks would make it to the 9th pick.

Whether this move works out depends on who they pick, obviously, and how they build up the rest of the roster down some significant draft capital. Carolina’s defense is good but need upgrades, and their offense is now down any compelling top receiving options and needs an overall infusion of talent. They’re still one of the stronger overall rosters in the division. The hope from the Panthers perspective is that they nail this pick, get a great quarterback, and weather a likely so-so 2023 before entering 2024 with more cap flexibility, all their picks except their first rounder, and a chance to really make some noise.

We’re now left to see what the Buccaneers and Falcons do at quarterback. Atlanta’s supposedly out of the Lamar Jackson sweepstakes and the Bucs cannot afford to go get him, and both teams have talked up their incumbent options enough that it remains possible that Desmond Ridder and Kyle Trask start for those teams, with veteran additions to back them up. Atlanta’s war chest of resources, ranging from a top ten pick to the second-highest total cap space in the NFL, means if they’re not sold on Ridder they’ll have avenues to get get a different starter. The NFC South’s shakeup may not be over, in other words, but at minimum you should expect to see Atlanta and Tampa Bay add veterans to the mix.

Regardless, Carolina is taking a big swing to get their guy they want, choosing to prioritize a brighter future over chasing fading relevance the way New Orleans has chosen to do. Expect a clearer sense of what the Falcons and Buccaneers are up to in the coming weeks.