CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It has been a good week for Carolina PanthersCoach Matt Rhule is proud to have found his quarterback of the future in a player whose first name is Rhule. Matt Corral.
It's because Rhule suddenly feels like he has a future in the franchise beyond 2022.
It all began Wednesday when David Tepper, the owner, finally gave his third-year coach an appointment. vote of confidence despite consecutive five-win seasons. It continued Thursday when Rhule was awarded NC State left tackle Ikem “Ickey” EkwonuWith the sixth pick of the NFL draft, when few thought he’d be there.
Then late Friday night, general manager Scott Fitterer traded into the third roundCorral, the Ole Miss quarterback, was selected as either a first or second round pick.
“Kenny Chesney and this,’’ Rhule said after the Corral pick, reminding that the country music star was performing at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night. “What could be better in Charlotte?’’
The only thing missing was background music to Chesney’s 2018 hit, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.’’
If you haven’t heard it, here are a few lyrics that seem appropriate here:
“Tell me something good that I don't know, cause this world's been kicking my behind. Life isn't always been my friend, lately I've felt kinda low. She looked over her shoulder and pointed at the sign on the wall. It said, ‘Everything's gonna be alright. Everything's gonna be alright.’ ’’
From the pandemic to the injuries to star Christian McCaffrey to bad quarterback choices, Rhule’s behind has been kicked repeatedly since being hired in January of 2020.
It’s too early to say everything’s gonna be all right with a Carolina organization that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017, but at least now it appears to be headed in the right direction.
Smart was not reaching for a quarterback but securing the foundation of Ekwonu's offensive line in the first round. The decision to trade No. 137, and a 2023 pick in the third round to the New England PatriotsCorral at No. 94 instead of trading for disgruntled Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker MayfieldIt was also smart.
Smart moves are often a wise investment.
Corral was moved up by the Panthers to indicate that they are patient with him and will let him develop. Sam Darnold, who remains the starter – for now. It means that Tepper wasn’t blowing smoke midweek when he broke nearly two years of silence to say, “I believe in Matt.’’
That doesn’t mean Corral will be the savior the organization has been looking for since Cam Newton’s game began to deteriorate with injuries in 2018. Had the Browns agreed to pay a large piece of Mayfield’s 2022 salary ($18.58 million), the first pick of the 2018 draft could have been headed to Charlotte.
But because Tepper seems willing to let Rhule and Fitterer build the right way, there was no pressure to take on Baker’s salary and other baggage in an attempt to win now.
Corral is in many ways the perfect piece to build on. His own struggles, including a battle with depression, have been overcome. fight with the son of hockey legend Wayne GretzkyThis could have hampered his early career.
He’s the tough type of kid who Rhule embraced at Temple and Baylor when turning those programs around.
“Everyone in their life goes through things, and we do a really good job of trying to delineate between people who have an issue or problem that can’t be overcome, with people who are going through some thing in their lives,’’ Rhule said. “I don’t know about you, but when I was 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, I certainly went through things.
“I really respect people who have been through things and are powerful enough, and open enough, to talk about them, and Matt is definitely one of those guys.’’
Corral is in the perfect place to start his NFL career. Corral is not expected to be a starter immediately, despite his team's success of going 10-33 in the previous two seasons.
Darnold has the option to play as early as possible if he struggles. Darnold was 17-32 as a rookie in most of his four NFL seasons.
Carolina spent much of the offseason trying trade for players. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun WatsonHe ultimately moved to Cleveland.
While Corral is far from the answer Watson would have wanted, he is someone that the staff believes has the potential for being special based upon tape. In some ways, Corral was better than any of the four quarterbacks they vetted.Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell).
He's accurate and completed 67.9% his college passes. He is quick to release. He's versatile enough to be a threat with both his arms and legs.
His teammates love and respect him. Leadership could be his greatest asset.
“One of things that really stood out the most, beside the physical traits, was the competitiveness and the toughness of him,’’ Fitterer said. “I mean, the guy took a pounding, but he kept getting up, kept getting up.’’
It could work out for Matts. Maybe they’ll even inspire a Chesney song one day.