Could Panthers Week 1 starter really be Andy Dalton?

Yes, there is a strong possibility that Andy Dalton is the Carolina Panthers’ starter in Week 1.

Although the Carolina Panthers wisely drafted Bryce Young No. 1 overall out of Alabama in the 2023 NFL Draft, there is a chance the Panthers begin Week 1 with Andy Dalton as their starter.

This may make Panthers and casual NFL fans uncomfortable to see the Red Rifle starting games for yet another team not named the Cincinnati Bengals. However, I do firmly understand their logic in this. Young is the most valuable asset the Panthers have had since taking Cam Newton No. 1 out of Auburn 12 years ago. They cannot feed Young to the wolves well before he is ready to play.

Here is what Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer had to say about who is QB1 in Charlotte.

“We’re going to rely on our coaches — Jim Caldwell, Frank Reich, Thomas Brown — to decide when it’s right. We don’t have a timeline. We’re not saying, ‘Hey, this guy’s gonna start the first game or we’re not going to play him at all this year.’ When the time is right or we felt like he’s got enough of a mastery of the offense where he can go out and operate this and be successful, that’s when he’ll be out there.”

Fitterer also made it a point to say the Panthers signed Dalton for a reason this offseason, too.

“We went out and signed Andy Dalton for a reason. He played as a rookie. He’s got a lot of experience. He understands his role and he can play good football. If Andy’s the guy to start the season, and he’s the starter right now heading into the season, then he’ll be the guy. When Bryce is ready or Matt Corral is ready whoever it may be, that’ll be the time they go in. We say it’s open competition, but Frank did say, ‘Hey, Andy’s he’s our guy right now. He’ll walk into the season as the starter and then as you know, the young guys compete underneath him, then they’ll go in when they’re ready.’”

Keep in mind that new head coach Frank Reich started the first few games in franchise history with the expansion 1995 Panthers before top draft pick Kerry Collins out of Penn State took over.

The thought that Dalton may get to start a few games may make some Carolinians a bit uneasy, but trust me, it would be the right call should that be the direction Fitterer and Reich want to go in.

Carolina Panthers could go with Andy Dalton over Bryce Young as Week 1 starter

Admittedly, we are so far away from this potentially being a reality, but don’t dismiss it just yet. Dalton started games initially for the 2021 Chicago Bears when Justin Fields was a rookie. Although it didn’t really matter because the Bears were mostly terrible, there was some logic behind what Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace wanted to do in Chicagoland. Carolina could follow suit.

Because the NFC South is so very winnable, the Panthers are not hurting themselves too badly starting Dalton in a division where the three other quarterbacks of note are Derek Carr, Baker Mayfield and Desmond Ridder. They are all fine, but none are bonafide rockstars. Dalton was every bit as good as Carr is during his brief prime with the Marvin Lewis era of Bengals football.

It’s going to take around 10 or 11 wins to win the NFC South. I expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pull back in the wake of Tom Brady’s second retirement. Although the New Orleans Saints are probably the slight favorites to win it, the Atlanta Falcons finished last year strong and had themselves a great offseason. Carolina also played well down the stretch, too.

While much of what made the Panthers’ defense so strong in the latter part of last year remains, Steve Wilks isn’t around anymore. I totally understand why owner David Tepper wanted to go with an offensive-minded head coach in Reich, but Wilks had total buy-in from this team on an interim basis. Reich knows quarterbacks, but he did suffer from the Indianapolis Colts’ brain drain of late…

Overall, Young is simply too talented to not overtake Dalton sooner rather than later. It is an inevitability at this point. However, Young is small in stature, which is not Reich’s cup of tea, so to speak. While we may not see Young learn how to baseball slide effectively between now and Labor Day, don’t expect Reich to force him out there just to appease the fans. Have patience.

Ultimately, I sense the Panthers are trending up, but do feel like they are a year away. They could surprise me, but I expect either the Saints or the Falcons will end up winning the division, mostly because they are not dealing with as much change in-house as the Panthers and the Buccaneers are. However, if any team is poised to run the NFC South going forward, it just might be Carolina.

Young will make his Panthers debut at some point, but it may not be right out of the gate Week 1.

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