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Will Grier is starting for the Panthers, and the timing couldn’t be worse

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This isn’t a bad move, but it needed to happen weeks ago.

Amidst their seasonal death throes, the Carolina Panthers are making one last floundering attempt to do something before the year comes to an end. On Monday, news leaked that rookie quarterback Will Grier would get the start against the Colts in Week 16, a move somehow both too early and too late, while highlighting just how indecisive the franchise is — all at a time when clear vision is needed.

It’s uncertain what the Panthers hope to glean by starting Grier now. The last two weeks of the season isn’t nearly enough time to properly evaluate the rookie before the offseason. There’s a chance all it could do is shatter his confidence due to lack of preparation, but at least it’s some form of activity after Kyle Allen nailed his own coffin shut on the pie-in-the-sky dream that he’s the quarterback of the future.

Allen has been disastrously terrible in the Panthers’ six-game losing streak, throwing 11 interceptions and fumbling the ball seven times. Any early-season headiness about the possibility of him being the future and taking Cam Newton’s spot are now gone — and that, along with ousted coach Ron Rivera, leaves the team in a lurch.

There was value in accepting this season was done, and that came back in Week 11 when Allen threw four interceptions against the Falcons and helped kill Carolina’s postseason goals. It was at this point the Panthers should have made a switch to Grier. Not out of hoping the team could actually win in 2019, but rather recognizing the importance of setting themselves up for 2020 — with knowledge, if nothing else.

A five-game slate for Grier would have at least been enough to have a better idea of his ability. The rookie didn’t have a great preseason, finishing with a passer rating of 65.3. That’s what led to him landing third on the depth chart in the first place. That said, the Panthers still invested a third-round pick in him, and, rightly or wrongly, that faith needed to be evaluated on a real level, not a cursory two-game opportunity in the ass-end of the season when nobody really cares unless they’re making the playoffs.

The situation wasn’t that far off from the seven games Lamar Jackson started for the Ravens in 2018. Comparing Grier to Jackson is a fool’s errand, but it’s a similar circumstance for both teams: longtime successful quarterback gets injured, team has a rookie on the roster, needs to see what the future could hold. Jackson obviously had more clout and promise than Grier did coming out of college, but especially in hindsight, losing those three weeks while Allen stunk it up at quarterback didn’t do anyone any favors.

Other teams made this decision, even when it hurt. The Jaguars went with Gardner Minshew, the Broncos with Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins is starting in Washington, and Ryan Finley got a shot with the Bengals. The point isn’t that all these rookie quarterbacks are successful — in fact they run the gamut from the very good, to the bad, and everything in between. But at least these teams were smart enough to arm themselves with information, unlike the Panthers.

This is all par for the course for Carolina, a team with perpetual timing problems. No team is blessed with an ability to see the future, but at least smart teams set themselves up to have as much information as possible. Instead, the Panthers routinely take the approach of sticking their head in the sand, plugging their ears and hoping everything works out.

As it stands, the Panthers will enter 2020 without a permanent head coach, no information on Newton’s status (a product of waiting so long for him to get surgery), and a rookie quarterback who will only make things worse — regardless of the outcome.

If Grier overperforms in the final two weeks of the season it will raise questions whether the Panthers should roll the dice on him in 2020 (assuming Newton is gone). If he underperforms they’ll be pressured into drafting a quarterback without having full knowledge whether Grier could have become the guy.

The true hope, as it should be, is Newton can bounce back from injury and Grier can take time to develop as the team’s backup. Owner David Tepper has made it clear he wants the Panthers to win, and he wants the franchise to be successful long-term. The path of least resistance is letting Newton rehab and hope he can return to form. It’s easy to forget Newton is only 30 years old, with plenty left in the tank, assuming he can bounce back from this recent foot injury.

However, a scenario exists where the team trades Newton away — and if that happens all bets are off. Only one thing is certain: Waiting this long to make the switch to Grier isn’t really helping anyone, and it only sets the Panthers up for more questions, hardship, and problems down the line.

This is a mess.