With John Fox set to walk when his contract expires after the season, the next head coach of the Panthers, along with GM Marty Hurney if he stays on board, will have to make a decision on the best way to handle the situation at quarterback.
The Panthers would have the first overall draft pick if the season ended today and it's widely believed that Carolina will have great interest in spending its first-round pick on Stanford QB Andrew Luck if he declares for the draft after his junior year. One source called it a "no-brainer" that the Panthers will take Luck if he's available. The player who was considered the club's quarterback of the future just a few months ago — rookie Jimmy Clausen — is well-aware of the scenario that could unfold.
Clausen has said his goal is to win some games down the stretch, which might move the team lower in the draft order. It will be a difficult task for Clausen and the Panthers, who have managed to win only once all season — and that with Matt Moore under center. Even if Carolina doesn't select first overall, it won't get too far away from the No. 1 slot and still could be in line to land the first quarterback off the board since at least one of other teams — Detroit — contending for the top pick will not be considering a signalcaller that early in the draft.
Clausen, a second-round pick, hasn't had the benefit of a soft landing in the NFL. He was thrust into a starting role for the rebuilding team earlier than the Panthers had hoped after the opening-day starter, Moore, was benched by Fox during a Week Two game. Clausen himself was benched before Moore suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week Nine, and Clausen has also missed a game because of a concussion since then.
Clausen has yet to start more than three games in a row, and while he's shown small signs of improvement as he gets more experience, it may not be enough to convince Carolina not to go in a different direction at quarterback. Observers say Clausen comes off as tough-minded and doesn't appear to be fazed by the buzz concerning the team's plans for the draft. He's confident, but his future with the Panthers is up in the air.