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Inside the draft room: the pieces fell into place

“OK, what’s next? – Rhule, many, many, many times over the years.

There was tangible relief when the Panthers drafted Ekwonu, but that was also only half the weekend’s work. Although they were looking for an answer there, they were also determined to find a quarterback. It turned out to be more complicated than watching teams pick other guys ahead of them.

“The reality is we were coming out of the weekend with a quarterback, one way or another,” Fitterer said this week. “We just didn’t know how at the time.”

Only one quarterback went in the first round, when Pitt’s Kenny Pickett went 20th overall to the Steelers.

That left four names from the top group of their editorial board at the post, but there were a number of other options.

For months — years really — the Panthers have been the center of speculation and actual trade talk over a number of quarterbacks. When they were seated on Friday evening, entering the party with no choice but with a sense of urgency despite everything, that still held true.

Calls have been made, both to potentially trade and for guys already in the league. Fitterer isn’t going to get into specific names, but Friday night there was talk of more than one veteran quarterback they could have acquired in the trade.

But those draftable guys were also an option, so there was a two-handed game of poker going on.

Watching quarterbacks fall made rookies more valuable than ever, as it meant they were cheaper. Corral’s four-year deal will net him around $5 million in total. The veterans they were considering are earning a lot more this year alone. So watching teams get nervous about keeping expensive veterans on the roster has driven their values ​​lower and lower. As many scouting reports as you file, finances also matter in football as you have limited wiggle room to put together a team. So trading for a veteran would probably mean removing some veterans.

For all the phone calls made and received from outside the building, there were just as many discussions inside as well. Every decision impacts another, so you need to have coaches in the room, staff guys, and numbers. The draft could be a scouting event, but vice-chairman of football administration Samir Suleiman sits in his second-row chair for reasons that go beyond the league call-up. You can work with salary caps, but the cap is part of every calculation.

As Friday night wore on, there was a lot of discussion, held at varying levels of emphasis.

“It can get tense in there sometimes,” Fitterer said. “There are a lot of things going on at the same time.”

Ultimately, none of the player trades that were discussed reached the kind of consensus to gain traction, so it was back to the board.

And the more they looked at him, the more anxious they became.

As quarterbacks fell and fell, the tension in the draft room rose and rose. When Malik Willis went 86th to the Titans, it hit another level.

Fitterer is a tactile draftsman; his hands are busy all the time. Often they have a phone inside or scribble potential trade terms on a note card. But he also keeps a purple stress ball and fidgety spinner on his desk to otherwise occupy them, burning off nervous energy the same way a fourth grader would.

But throughout Friday night, Fitterer kept those hands busy too, with a gentle downward wave, urging patience as things fell into place.

Someone would call with what sounded like a good offer. “Let’s wait,” he said. They were calling back minutes later, wanting more, hoping a needy GM would freak out and overpay. “Let’s wait,” Fitterer was saying, with that same palm-down motion that became a theme throughout the night.

They weren’t going to trade the first of next year. They really didn’t want to trade the second for next year. Eventually, they would trade next year’s third round and a fourth to get to 94 to take Corral.

It was a long day of waiting and watching, deliberating and debating, but at 10:55 p.m. on Friday night, hours after Chesney’s sound check could be heard in the adjacent hallway, they had their guy .

Now they just have to see if he can play.

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