How David Tepper has made a mess of the Carolina Panthers, ruined Bryce Young’s rookie season
Can 2024 and Young’s development be salvaged?
NFL owners come in different shapes and sizes. They also have their own opinions on how involved they want to be in the day-to-day football operations. Some owners simply write the checks and stay out of the way. Others, like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals, are heavily involved in building their respective teams. All have results of varying degrees.
Then there’s Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper.
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Tepper, a billionaire hedge-fund manager from Pittsburgh, bought the Panthers from previous owner Jerry Richardson in May 2018 following Richardson’s downfall. Tepper paid $2.2 billion for the franchise. He had previously been a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tepper has felt his football knowledge would coincide with the rest of the staff and help bring the Panthers back to a competitive level. Tepper is now in his sixth year as Panthers owner and…things haven’t exactly gone as planned.
Quite frankly, the Panthers have become a mess under Tepper. The Panthers are now 30-63 since Tepper bought the franchise, including a horrendous start to this season at 1-10. Carolina started the 2018 season 6-2 before quarterback Cam Newton suffered a shoulder injury. Carolina finished 7-9. That’s the best record the Panthers have had under Tepper.
Carolina has already locked up a sixth straight losing season. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2017 and haven’t won a playoff game since reaching Super Bowl 50.
Tepper has wanted to be involved in the football operations, but so far it is costing the Panthers dearly. The latest piece of evidence has been this season and how Carolina has handled the rookie season of No. 1 pick Bryce Young.
Before even landing Young, or even getting the No. 1 pick, the Panthers needed a new head coach after deciding to go in a different direction from interim head coach Steve Wilks, despite Wilks leading Carolina to a 7-10 finish following a 1-4 start and the firing of head coach Matt Rhule. Tepper wanted his guy…again.
Instead, the Panthers did something they had never done before: hire an offensive-minded head coach in former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich. The Panthers were always heavy into defensive head coaches in their history. Rhule had a bit of both sides of the football on his resume and played linebacker in college. Reich was the first pure offensive head coach in Carolina Panthers history.
Tepper felt he had his man to develop whichever quarterback the Panthers brought in. However, the Panthers were in a tricky spot, sitting at No. 9 in the draft order. In a draft that included Young from Alabama, C.J. Stroud from Ohio State and Anthony Richardson from Florida, Carolina was sitting behind a few teams that also were in the quarterback market, including the Houston Texans at No. 2, the Colts at No. 4 and the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7. Even the Atlanta Falcons at No. 8 had questions about Desmond Ridder.
After fielding what seemed on paper like an all-star coaching staff, the Panthers were ready to make a big run. They were ready to get their quarterback. So what was the plan going to be at No. 9? Simple. Trade up.
The Panthers swung a deal with the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 pick in March. That gave Carolina all the time they needed to decide which quarterback they were going to take. Some thought it would be Stroud. Reich and the staff seemed to be enamored with his potential. At least that’s what the speculation was. Instead, it was Young to Carolina with Stroud going to Houston at No. 2 and Richardson at No. 4 to the Colts.
Carolina had their guy. They were ready to make a run in a down NFC South. Unfortunately, the Panthers didn’t give Young and resources he needed to develop as a rookie. The offensive line has been terrible, the wide receivers are not very good and the Panthers are now paying Miles Sanders a lot of money to ride the bench in favor of Chuba Hubbard. Young hasn’t been perfect himself, making a ton of rookie mistakes. But the environment has been far from ideal. Tepper and general manager Scott Fitterer did a poor job of at least giving Young a chance in his first year.
Stroud, on the other hand, has the Texans in position to potentially make the playoffs at 6-5. Head coach DeMeco Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio gave Stroud the tools he needed early, including wide receivers Nico Collins and rookie Tank Dell.
Tepper will tell you he’s still confident in Young and that the whole staff was on board with the pick. There are rumors he and his wife, Nicole, overrode Reich in taking Young. There’s no more overriding of Reich in Carolina. The Panthers fired Reich after just 11 games. That’s the fourth-shortest head-coaching stint in NFL history. Even Urban Meyer’s disastrous stay in Jacksonville lasted longer (13 games).
The Panthers tabbed special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor as interim head coach. The Panthers also fired quarterbacks coach Josh McCown — another rumored proponent of Stroud — and running backs coach Duce Staley.
Nothing like being a rookie quarterback and already having your head coach and quarterbacks coach fired.
And that trade Carolina made for Young? It almost didn’t happen. In a press conference following Reich’s dismissal, Tepper confirmed the Panthers had a plan to move up to No. 2 instead of No. 1.
What was going to happen was Chicago would have traded the first pick to Houston who would have taken Young. Chicago then would have traded the second pick to Carolina who would have taken Stroud. Carolina seemingly got impatient with the Chicago-Houston trade talks that they decided to move right up to No. 1 themselves to take Young, the top quarterback on their board.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re not going to support your No. 1 overall pick, then what good is the pick, especially when you traded a future first-round pick — one that is likely going to be the No. 1 pick in 2024 — to get your quarterback.
Tepper also did himself no favors at that press conference. He only lasted 15 minutes and that was only because one last question was snuck in, otherwise he was getting cut off at ten minutes. He ignored certain questions about a potential search firm for a new head coach and the future of Fitterer. He even flat-out denied allowing Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler to ask a question, presumably out of spite.
This is a case where there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut hierarchy in the organization, but Tepper has been running as if the buck stops with him. Tepper had been preaching patience since coming to Carolina. Tepper has now fired three head coaches in six years. Incredibly, Rhule lasted the longest under Tepper’s watch. Rivera was head coach for almost ten years in Carolina, but only the last two were with Tepper.
Patience is a virtue, but Tepper has not practiced what he preaches. They’ll try again in 2024, but at this rate, it’s going to be a few years before the Panthers are even competitive again.