Panthers' future at QB on minds of many

CHARLOTTE - In a season with outstanding quarterback play happening all around the NFL, the Carolina Panthers are struggling mightily at the position.

For today's game at Arizona, the quarterback job still belongs to Jake Delhomme, who has not been the same since committing six turnovers in a 33-13 home playoff loss to the Cardinals on Jan. 10.

Delhomme has thrown only four touchdown passes this season and leads the NFL with 13 interceptions.

Despite Delhomme's poor play, there is still support for him within the Panthers' organization. One viewpoint is he is in a slump and needs a confidence boost, and it would be premature to judge what he has left.

A case in point to support that position is Arizona's Kurt Warner, a two-time league MVP with the Rams whose career seemed to have fizzled out when St. Louis let him go before the 2004 season. He spent the next year with the Giants before landing with the Cardinals, where he did not initially experience success.

However, Warner rediscovered his passing touch and last season led Arizona to the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He is playing well again this year at age 38.

Panthers coach John Fox contemplated a switch to Matt Moore or A.J. Feeley early in the week, partly to give Delhomme a break, but decided to stick with the status quo for today's game at Arizona.

Even with the reprieve, Delhomme's future with the Panthers is in doubt. Unless he has a fairly dramatic revival, the weeks and months ahead could usher in a painful and complicated transition process.

If the Panthers post a dismal record, they could secure a spot in the top half of the first round of the 2010 draft. The pick, however, will go to San Francisco; Carolina dealt its first-round selection to the 49ers this April so it could select defensive end Everette Brown in the 2009 second round.

Depending upon how the Panthers finish, the pick the 49ers have could be high enough to have a shot at the half dozen or so quarterbacks who are projected as first-round possibilities.

The 2010 draft class is set to include Texas' Colt McCoy, Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Juniors who could join the mix include Washington's Jake Locker, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, and Mississippi's Jevan Snead.

If those players are in the draft, it's possible some of them could be available after Round 1. Players such as Cincinnati senior Tony Pike also could be options.

And it's important to remember that Carolina isn't automatically shut out of the first round. They could use future currency again and deal away their 2011 first-rounder to try to climb back into the 2010 opening round.

The last time the Panthers went looking for a starting quarterback was in 2003. They did not try to develop a young prospect or trade for an established starter, but rather signed Delhomme as an unrestricted free agent.

The chances of Carolina discovering another up-and-comer like Delhomme, or someone with a more established background, figures to be impacted by whether or not the NFL and the players' association strikes a deal for a new CBA before early March.

If no bargaining deal gets done, the 2010 season is scheduled to be uncapped, setting in motion changes in the free agency system that could dilute the pool of available talent.

An uncapped year would negate the current rule allowing four-year veterans whose contracts are expired to become unrestricted free agents and would put in place a six-year requirement.

Quarterbacks who stand to be affected by such a change next year include Denver's Orton and Washington's Jason Campbell. Quarterbacks who meet the six-year requirement and could be on the market are hardly impressive.

There also could be players available via trade. Cleveland, for instance, is likely to deal away at least one of their two quarterbacks, Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. Both, however, have played poorly for the Browns, one of the NFL's worst teams, so it is unlikely they would excite fans in Carolina or any other city.

Alas, it's only November and much can change in the next few months, including a Delhomme resurrection.

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