By STEVE REED | AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers are on the clock.
The Panthers have traded up to acquire the No. 1 overall pick in the draft from the Chicago Bears in exchange for Carolina's No. 9 and No. 61 overall picks in 2023, a first-round pick in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025 and star wide receiver D.J. Moore, two people familiar with the deal said Friday.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been announced. The deal is expected to be announced on Wednesday, when the NFL's free agency signing period begins.
The move allows the Panthers to acquire a potential franchise quarterback — the sort of player the team has coveted for years — although it remains unclear which QB Carolina prefers. The Bears are committed to Justin Fields at quarterback and that gave them leverage to trade down.
Carolina has its choice of Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Kentucky's Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson. The Panthers are considering up to three quarterbacks, one of the people familiar with the deal said.
The Panthers may not have gotten the QB they wanted if they had stayed at No. 9.
“You go get the guy that you want, you know,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said last week at the scouting combine about potentially trading up for a quarterback. “If you have a conviction on a guy, you go get him. It’s pretty simple that way. If you don’t know and you’re going to give all these resources to go up and get it, you’re hurting your team in the long run. You better be right. You better have conviction if you do move up. When you do that, you’re all in.”
The Panthers have been seeking stability at quarterback since David Tepper bought the team in 2018.
They have tried several starters — including Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and even bringing back Cam Newton for a second stint. But none of those options has worked out and Carolina hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2017.
This is the first time the Panthers have had the No. 1 pick since 2011, when they drafted Newton. He was MVP of the league in 2015, when he led Carolina to its second Super Bowl appearance.
The Panthers decided against making an offer to free agent Derek Carr with an eye toward selecting a quarterback in the draft. Carr got a four-year, $150 million deal from the division rival New Orleans Saints. The Panthers didn't want to invest that much in a veteran.
Fitterer has repeatedly said in the past that he likes the idea of drafting a QB because it allows for more salary cap flexibility.
The only quarterbacks currently on the Panthers' roster are last year’s third-round draft pick Matt Corral and Jacob Eason, who saw action in one game as an emergency backup. Darnold and P.J. Walker, who both started at QB last year, are set to become free agents.
New Panthers coach Frank Reich told The Associated Press in February that finding stability at quarterback was “a big deal.”
“It’s a question of getting together with Scott and Mr. Tepper and really having a plan, which we will. We’ve already started talking about that,” Reich said. “But then it is about executing the plan. So I’m looking forward to the process.”
Moore gives the Bears a solid receiver to pair with Fields, who lacked reliable downfield options but leaned on his legs and playmaking ability during an electrifying second season. Fields ran for 1,143 yards and the Bears led the league in rushing, but finished at the bottom in passing.
Moore was considered a must-have by the Bears, one of the people familiar with the deal said. Without him, the deal would not have been completed, the person said.
Moore has been Carolina's top receiver since the Panthers drafted him in the first round in 2018. He has caught 364 passes for 5,201 yards with 21 touchdowns in five seasons.
The Panthers wanted to get the deal done before free agency because they wanted to know how much salary cap space they would have to work with. By trading Moore, the Panthers will free up $10 million under the cap.
The departure of Moore leaves the Panthers with a gaping hole at wide receiver, but the team still has a high second-round pick (No. 39 overall) and could also look to address that position in free agency. Terrace Marshall, a former second-round pick, is Carolina’s top remaining receiver. He had 28 receptions for 490 yards and one touchdown last season.
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