The regular season might be over, but the Panthers just suffered another big loss.
Andrew Luck is staying at Stanford another year.
Short of finishing 2-14 again or having a lockout wipe out the 2011 season, the Panthers will not be blessed with Luck. Time to move on, folks.
Maybe John Fox is having a slight chortle somewhere, but no one else in the Carolinas is smiling in light of Thursday's developments.
Coming off the second-worst season, record-wise, in franchise history, the Panthers apparently already had sold themselves on Luck, who was expected to make himself available to lend his savior act after helping revive the dormant Cardinal program from near-death.
Luck chose school and architectural design and a chance to win a national title over going to Carolina. Maybe he was concerned about a potential lockout — and he might be smart enough to negotiate it. Perhaps he knew he wouldn't be paid as much with a rookie wage scale likely to come down the pike.
Either way, the Panthers are shifting gears.
They have no choice. They'll have a defensive-minded coach in place this time next week, and they'll start figuring out who will be under center in the fall.
It could be Jimmy Clausen. It could be another rookie — even without Luck, there could be four first-round QBs. It could be a rent-a-veteran, such as Kyle Orton. (Fear not, Panthers fans: The Broncos won't get the second-rounder they say they're asking for.) We just know it won't be the Golden Boy. More on him later.
Speaking of second-rounders, no more does that Armanti Edwards trade hurt than right at this moment. To review: The Panthers dealt a 2011 second-rounder to the Patriots on draft weekend nine months ago for a late third-rounder with which the Panthers selected Edwards. He barely saw the field as a rookie. The second-rounder will be the No. 33 pick in the draft, a most valuable piece of real estate.
Many later said the trade perfectly encapsulated the fracture between Fox and GM Marty Hurney and their different visions for the franchise. Whatever their philosophies, the trade now just hurts. You've got a multi-tool, no-position player in Edwards who might or might not endear himself to the new coach, and the Patriots own a pick the Panthers badly could use.
Look at the Rams a year ago. They selected Sam Bradford at one and then found his left tackle at No. 33, Rodger Saffold, one of the best rookies this year. When you have the No. 1 pick, you know exactly who you will take at some point. And from there, you can then turn and put a lot of your focus on that 33rd pick, knowing you probably won't draft the same position.
It's a power position. You either get one player with the pick who could start as a rookie or you deal it for more picks. Several teams contacted the Rams — including the Panthers, who wanted Clausen — to trade for that 33rd pick. The Panthers would be entertaining offers that exceed that of Edwards, I'll say that much.
Although there are a lot of intriguing quarterbacks in this year's draft class, few evaluators would be comfortable taking any of them with the first pick. Rookie wage scale or not, that's a lot of money and responsibility for a player with holes in his game.
Jake Locker must answer questions about his huge drop as a senior. Blaine Gabbert must show he has more than just a golden arm. Ryan Mallett can sling it, too, but he cowered in the face of pressure in the Sugar Bowl. Cam Newton is a terrific athlete, but is he a sure thing as a QB? You get the idea.
That's why I think it's far more likely the Panthers will look at other positions. They certainly didn't have to go far to scout one candidate, Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, whose team lost to South Florida in Bank of America Stadium, home of these Panthers. Although the Nagurski Trophy-winner Bowers had only his third game this season without a sack (he had 15½ on the year) and made only one tackle for loss in the game (he had 24 coming in), it was clear that USF wanted no part of Bowers wrecking their passing game. They used a ton of screens and quick passes and ran the other way most of the time.
LSU CB Patrick Peterson might be the best defensive player in the draft, are you really going to take a corner — though, yes, he's also a brilliant returner — with the first pick? Pass rusher ranks ahead of corner on most teams' draft totem poles, and no corner has ever gone higher than third overall.
Bowers could be the pick even if he has a little bit of another former Panther in him, for better and worse. He will remind some folks of a not-quite-so-tall Julius Peppers, the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft, who at times enchanted fans with his ability and at others frustrated them with his on-and-off motor. Peppers' leaving Carolina, though, was a big contributor to them going 2-14, it should be noted. Before that, Peppers, Fox and the Panthers never had gone worse than 7-9 together.
There's no way of backing Panthers fans off the edge because right now they are convinced the world is working against them. They are cursing the world and skipping church on Sunday. But this is not the end.
Remember, all you Clausen haters, he made his biggest jump in college between his awful freshman year to his sophomore year, going from seven TDs to 25. Would you take that kind of jump if you're the Panthers? Damned straight you would. And maybe there's an Orton or Orton-like veteran out there ready to move on at less than market value and surprise people with his production. The Panthers have played the us-versus-the-world card pretty well over the years, so maybe they can do it again.
Yes, having Luck would have been nice, but do we know for sure he's going to be great? Of course not. He made several NFL throws in the Orange Bowl, but he also had a bad pick and one more ball that definitely could have been a pick-six. Even Panthers fans blinded by the magic dust managed to forget those two throws after the game.
It's time to eyewash the dust out. Luck's out. Someone else will take his place. And it might even work out well in the end, just not the way people were expecting 24 hours ago.
Sure would be nice to have that 33rd pick, though.