When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in December, it ended the MVP hopes of the former first-round pick from North Dakota State.
It also was supposed to shatter the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes, or so thought most experts.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another Eagles’ postseason flameout, namely Nick Foles.
Foles’ production in two playoff victories – especially his 352 passing yards and three touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota – sent the Eagles soaring into Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots (Sunday, 6:20 p.m.). That production also serves as a striking reminder of the importance of a solid backup quarterback.
This is a timely topic for the Carolina Panthers, whose No. 2 quarterback, Derek Anderson, is set to become a free agent in March.
Anderson has started four games in seven seasons as Cam Newton’s backup, so this might not be as pressing as in other NFL cities. But offseason surgeries on Newton’s knee and shoulder in recent years – as well as the knee injury he sustained in a playoff loss at New Orleans – demonstrate that even a sturdy, 6-5, 245-pound quarterback is not immune to injury.
Here’s a look at the backup quarterback options available to the Panthers on the roster, in the draft and in free agency.
The case for Derek Anderson
Anderson will be 35 before next season and knows the Norv Turner/Rob Chudzinski offense as well as anyone, Newton included.
Fans were calling for Anderson’s job last summer after a poor preseason showing, but there’s a danger in putting too much stock in August games. The criticism also ignored the perfect passer rating Anderson posted in the first preseason game against Houston, albeit in a small sample size.
There’s nothing to be gleaned from Anderson’s play in the regular season, which included eight pass attempts.
The benefits of re-signing Anderson are twofold: He would likely come back on a team-friendly deal (his last contract was for two years and $4.7 million) and he would continue to be a steadying influence for Newton, who is already working with a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
The case for Garrett Gilbert
Gilbert is probably best known as the quarterback who replaced Texas quarterback Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS title game against Alabama when McCoy was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury.
Gilbert, who finished his college career at SMU, spent last season with the Panthers, including the last half of the year on the active roster after the team chose him over Brad Kaaya as the No. 3 quarterback.
Gilbert has never played in a regular-season game, and his preseason stats last year were only so-so. But coaches like Gilbert’s size (6-4, 230), poise and arm strength, and he’s expected to at least get the chance to win the job.
Gilbert has good bloodlines: His father, Gale, was a quarterback for eight NFL seasons and is the only player in NFL history to be a part of five consecutive Super Bowl teams (four with Buffalo, one with San Diego).
The case for signing a free agent quarterback
There’s a big and interesting group of free agent quarterbacks – 30 of them – this year, including all three of the Minnesota Vikings’ passers (Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater).
That’s potentially important because Norv and Scott Turner’s previous NFL jobs were in Minnesota, where Norv Turner worked out Bridgewater before the 2014 draft and presumably would have signed off on the Vikings taking him in the first round.
Bridgewater and Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, assuming the Bills cut or trade him, would give the Panthers a backup whose skill set is more similar to Newton’s than with Anderson.
But both players have been NFL starters, so would have to warm to the idea of coming to Carolina as a reserve. From the Panthers’ point of view, interim GM Marty Hurney – or whoever is running free agency – isn’t going to pay starter’s money for a backup.
So the market would have to cool before Taylor, Bridgewater or another quarterback with their experience would be in play for the Panthers.
In the meantime, there are less expensive options, including two with ties to Hurney and the Panthers. Josh McCown and Matt Moore have played well in spot duty in recent years.
McCown, who turns 39 in July, had his best statistical season last year with the Jets. McCown set career highs in passing yards (2,926), touchdown passes (18) and completion percentage (67.3) before breaking his left hand in Week 13.
The case for drafting a quarterback
The Panthers explored this idea in 2012, when they were interested in drafting Russell Wilson in a later round to serve as a backup who could run the same offensive packages as Newton.
Hurney, who has been scouting since the fall while preparing to direct the Panthers’ draft, doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to selecting quarterbacks after the first round.
Also, the Panthers have invested too much in Newton and have too many other needs (wide receiver, interior offensive lineman, edge rusher, plus tight end if Ed Dickson isn’t re-signed) to use a high pick on a quarterback.
But they could try to find someone on the third day of the draft – or even an undrafted free agent – to compete with Anderson, Gilbert or both.
Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is a strong runner, but his suspect passing skills were on display again at the East-West Shrine Game.
Troy’s Brandon Silvers and Western Kentucky’s Mike White, both of whom have good size, were highly productive at small schools but could be available after the draft.