OPINION: Stern: Panthers' trade up to No. 1 pick has boom-bust potential

Frank Reich
Photo credit Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports

While pushing all the poker chips into the center of the table has a certain risk to it, that action provides an adrenaline rush, because of the "what if?" factor. And for the Panthers, trading away two first-round draft picks, a pair of second rounders, and receiver D.J. Moore to the Bears -- in a blockbuster move up to the top selection in the NFL Draft next month -- feels like an overly risky move that could backfire.

If Carolina wants any idea how mortgaging away their future for a quarterback could work out, they can ask the Broncos if they regret trading away the farm for a 33-year-old Russell Wilson. The first year of the Wilson era was a disaster in Denver, and there's still a chance he could turn things around. But all of the risk factors associated with a catastrophic decision are certainly present. And if newly hired head coach Frank Reich has fallen head-over-heels in love with one of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, or Anthony Richardson, then the deal makes sense. No price is too high if a team truly believes they have their guy.

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However, Reich's recent track record in attempting to perform life support on veteran quarterbacks in Indianapolis -- Phillip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan -- doesn't inspire optimism. Comparing the success of guys in the latter stages of their career to up-and-coming youngsters feels misguided. After all, they'll be all about development and learning, rather than late-stage changes. But the quarterback position is the quarterback position. And such a massive gamble must pay dividends, making full-scale evaluations imperative.

Of the three top quarterback prospects, Young and Stroud seem like the more safe options, while Richardson presents an intriguing, high-upside alternative. If the Panthers aren't dead-set on one guy, they can always slide back down a few spots in the hopes of recouping draft capital, which has been a rumored possibility. Regardless of what they choose to do between now and late April, their new regime will be taking a signal-caller with one of the high picks.

All indications are that Carolina has greenlighted the idea of a rebuild, starting with an overhaul at the quarterback position. But impatient fans will ultimately believe the process needs to be expedited, and grow restless if some form of instant results aren't provided. This isn't to say the 2023 class of quarterbacks has to blow the walls off Bank of America Stadium with first year results. There still needs to be enough promise for many to feel confident about the future.

Still, the booming upside of potentially drafting the next elite NFL quarterback allows Carolina to talk themselves into making such a questionable decision. Who's to say this year's class doesn't feature a Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Jalen Hurts? All three signal-callers had legitimate question marks coming out of college. And thus far, they've defied logic, in terms of their fast-paced development and impact on their respective teams.

Plus, there's blood in the water in the NFC South. Both the Falcons and Bucs are in quarterback transition, and Derek Carr's fit with the Saints remains to be seen. The openness of the division puts that much more pressure on Reich to produce a quality product immediately. Catastrophic consequences await the Panthers if they're unable to do so. There'll be a restless fanbase, and a roster that felt management should've rode the hot hand of Steve Wilks after he got the most out of last year's team as the interim coach.

Should the Panthers strike gold, then everybody will look back at the decision to trade up as genius. But if they ultimately gifted Moore to the Bears -- along with high-upside picks that can build a core -- it'll end up looking like they put diamonds in Chicago's treasure chest. With the Bears seemingly a few pieces away from building a solid contender around a budding Justin Fields, the bust potential is that much higher.

Baseball is now about hitting the home run, while basketball has increasingly become three-pointer dependent. In making the bold decision to slide up to the No. 1 spot, the Panthers sought a slam-dunk ending in a three-point play. Only time will tell if they ultimately surrendered an easy bucket in transition as a result of rolling the dice.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports