“It’s truly whatever happens happens, because at the end of the day it’s out of my control, and I know that,” Darnold, 24, said on the “Bussin’ with the Boys” podcast created by Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan and free-agent linebacker Will Compton. “I have enough security in myself where I can say, ‘I know I’m a good quarterback. I know I can be a good quarterback in this league. I’ve proved it.’
“And I know there’s a team, if something happens, that would want me.”
Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft, admitted what the Panthers have done has been “a little shot to the ego,” but said he is prepared for whatever happens.
Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer recently began the offseason by saying the starting job was “open.” The team then pursued Deshaun Watson to the point it was willing to give up three first-round picks, at least one player and other draft picks for a quarterback facing 22 civil suits involving sexual misconduct.
The Cleveland Browns ultimately landed Watson in exchange for three first-round picks (2022, ’23, ’24), one third-round pick (2023) and two fourth-round picks (2022, 2024). Watson also got a record five-year, $230 million deal guaranteed.
The Panthers, who own the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, spent the next week at the pro days of quarterbacks Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh, Malik Willis of Liberty and Matt Corral of Mississippi.
Fitterer followed those visits by saying Darnold was “in the lead for the job,” but didn’t rule out using the sixth pick on one of them.
“At the end of the day somebody has got to answer for it,” Darnold said of whatever decision is made at quarterback. “Whoever it is. The GM. The coach. If something happens like that, we’ll see what they have to say, and that’s about it.”
The Panthers acquired Darnold last April in a trade with the New York Jets, giving up a sixth-rounder in 2021 and a second- and fourth-rounder in 2022.
Darnold, who went 13-25 in three years with the Jets, won his first three starts for the Panthers. He finished 4-7, missing six games while recovering from a shoulder injury, and again ranked statistically as one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
While he was out, the Panthers brought back 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, the top pick of the 2011 draft who was released in 2020 shortly after coach Matt Rhule was hired.
Newton went 0-5 as the starter and remains a free agent, although Fitterer and Rhule haven’t ruled out bringing him back.
Darnold said he learned a lot from Newton and welcomed him as a teammate.
“He was a great dude,” Darnold said. “A great guy in the quarterback room. A great guy to have around in general because his energy is unmatched. And then I come back and play and he’s a great guy.
“I really have nothing bad to say about Cam.”
Darnold has been careful the past four years not to say anything bad about the Jets or their fans who booed him. He said his experience in New York helped prepare him to handle the criticism he is getting now.
But he admitted some of the criticism bothered him.
“The part that pisses me is off is when people judge my game, like how I’m playing,” he said. “Then I’m like, ‘Go strap it up.’ I’m [like], ‘You’re a fan and I respect you as a fan. You can talk all the s— you want, I’m not going to do anything at the end of the day, but take it easy.’
“What if I was like, ‘The house you just worked on, piece of sh–. You’re so bad at tiling. You should really go get another job. Really think about your profession.’ Sometimes you want to say stuff like that, but you can’t.”
Darnold said he told Jets management it was “making a mistake” when the team made the trade and then went on to select quarterback Zach Wilson with the second pick of the 2021 draft.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my call,” he said. “If they don’t think I’m the guy, it is what it is.”
Now Darnold’s potentially in that position again at Carolina.
“I’m just trying to learn Coach McAdoo’s system,” he said of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. “That’s where it’s at.”