CHARLOTTE — Writing this mailbag after a long draft-induced break is kind of like throwing a big party when you’re in college, and waking up the next morning to see all your friends asleep on the couches and knowing they’re ready to go again.

With a sense of confusion, a hint of repulsion, but an overwhelming feeling of delight at the possibilities, you say: “You’re still here?”

Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve got to get better at time management. The mail starts to stack up each year around the draft, here and at home. They’re going to disconnect my landline if I don’t pay Bell South soon. It’s either totally my fault, or possibly that the NFL’s annual player selection meeting has become a monster that eats the entire month of April and leaves nothing behind but the grease-stained mock drafts it uses for napkins. One or the other.

At any rate, since we last bagged, lots of cool stuff happened. Thanks for reading about it here. There’s more to come. Your host now humbly apologizes, and welcomes you back for what should be another good time. As my old college buddy Clayton used to say: “If you’re scared, get in my pocket.” Let’s get weird.

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Even with the cloudy quarterback situation, if Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu fall into our lap at six, it’s a no-brainer to take one of them, right? None of the top QBs in the draft are a sure-fire thing but both of those guys are franchise guys with Pro Bowl and All-Pro potential. Tell me I’m not crazy. — Andrew, Charlotte

You’re not crazy Andrew. You’re a seer.

Also, you sent this question in before the draft, and I didn’t see it until I started clearing the pizza boxes and empties off the counter and digging out from the last month.

But the larger point stands. If you want a longer version of how this all came together, I will steer you to our annual Inside the Draft Room piece, which explains why for all the pre-draft talk about quarterbacks, the goal was always to land one of those top tackles. While nothing relating to the draft is ever a sure thing, it’s fair to suggest that those tackles are more likely to be long-term successful than the quarterbacks at the top of this year’s class.

The Panthers didn’t realize they’d have their choice among the tackles, or that they’d possibly get the one they had graded highest in the class. They were fortunate in that regard. And that’s exactly what I’d have told you the week before the draft, as far as you know.

And because he can predict the future, I’m making Andrew this week’s Friend Of The Mailbag, because it’s always good to have the clairvoyant on your side. He’ll receive the appropriate honorarium in the near future, and only he knows for sure when that will be.

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What are the chances of Matt Corral starting Week 1, and is there still a possibility of trading for a veteran quarterback? — Sreenivas, Apex NC

This is perilously close in form to the dreaded “Any chance?” question that gets you sent straight to @panthersbill.

But it’s also representative of a lot of the mail we got since the draft ended, and I get it.

For starters, it’s reasonable to pump the brakes on Corral. As head coach Matt Rhule said recently, if the season started now, Sam Darnold would be the starter.

There’s a lot to like about Corral as a prospect, but there’s also not necessarily a rush. He’s unique among recent Panthers quarterbacks in that he’s under contract at a more reasonable rate for a long time. He’ll make around $5 million total over four years. So there’s no financially-inspired hurry to see what they’ve got. Being patient with him would also be good for Corral.

As to the back half of the question, looking at the logos on the walls of this building, I would say these are still the Panthers we’re talking about, so there’s always a chance something else happens.

General manager Scott Fitterer walked in the door saying he wanted to be “in on every deal,” and he wasn’t lying. We should now take him at his word. That’s not the same as saying something’s about to happen, but there’s always a chance something might.

As long as these are still the Panthers, it’s reasonable to suggest that quarterback moves will continue to be a part of the future, until they’re not. But they’re also not in a spot where they have to make a change for the sake of change. They wanted to add a quarterback. They added Corral. That might not be the last move, but it could be.

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Long-time reader, fourth-time caller. Hey, Darin. Yes, I may be crazy. No, it may not be the Panthers’ fault. But, that being said, those two lines do intersect at some point. Would you look at all that cap space? Could build upon an already strong free agent spree with all that cap space. Why are we just sitting there with like $30 million falling out of our pockets? Are we going to draft a left tackle and trade for one of those expensive quarterbacks? Tuck it away for next year already? More tricks up our Fitty sleeves? — John, Matthews, NC

Sure, if you look at the readily accessible internet salary cap database, you’d see that the Panthers do have a pretty good chunk of cap space. But as with a lot of things on the internet, it’s not quite as simple as it appears.

For one thing, nearly $10 million of that total is earmarked for signing this year’s draft class. Then you account for another $10 million or so in cushion to get you through a season, to cover in-season moves or injuries.

So while they’ve got space, it’s not like they could just go out and add someone who counts $20 million or more against the cap. If they were to make a move for a big-money quarterback or a big-money anything, they’d probably have to cut some veterans to clear cap room.

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Any possibility of signing Mike Davis who was released by the Falcons last week? He was a valuable reserve two years ago when Christian McCaffrey was injured. Could provide experienced running back depth in case McCaffery goes down again this season. — John, Cornelius, NC

I’m warning you people, you’re crossing the “Any chance?” line a little too often and cavalierly this week. Fortunately, I’m in a good mood.

Davis was good in 2020 (1,015 combined yards from scrimmage), and it helped him earn a contract from his hometown Falcons. But they couldn’t wait to get out of that contract this year. Davis is also 29, putting him close to that age when running backs don’t magically start getting more explosive.

Also, that’s why D’Onta Foreman is here. After his star turn subbing for an injured Derrick Henry in Tennessee last year (566 rushing yards and three touchdowns in nine games, with three 100-yard games), he’s shown what he can do as a fill-in, or even as a complement when everyone’s healthy.

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The cornerback room lost a veteran over the offseason, but obviously a few of the young guys have a chance to push on and improve with the right leadership. Any chance of a veteran coming in to lead them, or do the coaches have enough faith in Donte Jackson as a leader? With the Giants cutting James Bradberry, any chance he ends up back in Carolina as the veteran of the secondary? — Matt, Frome, Somerset, England

This entire mailbag is now on notice for “Any chance?” I won’t be as forgiving in the future.

I get the temptation on Bradberry, but this is a different place than the one he left in 2020.

While he’s certainly talented, he could also command more of a price than they want to pay. And while they’ll miss the Yoda-like influence Stephon Gilmore had on that room last year, Jackson has developed as a leader, and they still have old-head Rashaan Melvin around.

Collecting old friends always has a certain appeal, but Bradberry is more of a zone player than the current lot of corners. Jackson and Jaycee Horn can both play aggressive man, and CJ Henderson has the ability to. How he develops this year will be important for the defense. When you start mixing in young players like Keith Taylor Jr. and super-fast seventh-rounder Kalon Barnes, they have a lot of dudes in that room. Not sure that’s where I’d invest my remaining veteran free agent budget. Which isn’t as big as people apparently believe it is.

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As someone who has seen a fair few draft classes come and go over the years – I’m interested in your initial thoughts or ‘hot take’ on how this year’s class stacks up compared to the best you’ve seen? Do you have good vibes? — Michael, Brisbane, Australia

I’m perfectly willing to grade drafts, from three or four years ago. Grading a draft now is largely a combination of “Did Team A fill an easily identifiable need?” and “Have I ever heard of the person they filled it with?”

Ekwonu and Corral filled in the lines on the depth chart the Panthers needed to fill. They appear to be good at football. Starting this weekend at rookie minicamp, we’ll find out if they can play (though we really won’t know for months, if not years).

The 2019 class tried hard, but gets a D, and that may be kind. Brian Burns and Dennis Daley are the only ones left on the roster at all, and that’s a problem entering their fourth year.

On the other hand, the 2018 class was a model student, at least a B-plus and maybe an A-minus.

With DJ Moore‘s extension and Jackson’s new contract, along with fourth-rounders Ian Thomas and Marquis Haynes Sr. coming back, that’s four solid contributors from a class. That’s a huge win. Considering fifth-rounder Jermaine Carter has found work in Kansas City, and that class looks better now than it did then in May 2018.

If we do anything wrong as a draft-industrial complex, we overrate the impact of later picks. Right now, it’s easy to think about roles for guys picked on the third day. But when you get a few years out, you realize that those guys being on the roster in four years is an achievement, and that the true impact comes from the top two rounds. That’s why that 2018 class was so good. Moore and Jackson are players. Those mid-round guys might not be stars, but they’re here, and that matters.

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Hi Darin, hope all is well, and you’ve managed to recover from what must have been a hectic draft weekend for you. I come to ask the most important question you’ll receive today: how much does the jersey number a player chooses affect a team’s evaluation? Any sane human being will agree that there are “cool” jersey numbers as well as “ugly” numbers. If I was a coach, and a non-OL wanted a number with a “6” (sorry P.J. Walker) in it I would start to question their decision-making. Related note: What’s Matt Corral’s number? I’m dying to know. — Eric, Toronto, Canada

I am kind of a nihilist when it comes to numbers. No rules; anything’s fair game. Your quarterback wants to be number 99? Have at it. Better yet, 00. If you saw a quarterback walk under center wearing 75, you would be afraid for your personal safety. If a gigantic guard was wearing 8, it would be likewise intimidating (and depending on his level of physical conditioning, his number might also look like his picture).

Letting non-traditional positions wear single digits can look cool (in my mind, Shaq Thompson has always been 7), but you run out of the cool-looking ones fast, and somebody has to wear 45 (Brad Hoover was born to be a 45. We love The Hoov around here).

But I think any number can be cool, if you are cool in it. Fashion is a personal choice, but you have to wear the number; you can’t let it wear you.

Stay tuned for Corral news, that’s coming soon on Panthers.com. We call that a tease.

Let’s go lightning-round to wrap this one up, since we’ve abandoned all the conventions of question-asking this week.

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My question is not so much a question as it is a suggestive approach. I would like to know much more details about the rookies and free agent additions. Difficulties growing up that made them stronger, and also how do they fit into what the Panthers are looking for? Thank you for your time and wise words. The gist of what I’m getting at; there are stories to these young men that will endear them to the fan base. Let’s be proactive in the ‘character’ department. — Brian, Asheboro, NC

I ASKED FOR QUESTIONS, BRIAN.

Oh, you mean like the way Ekwonu carried lessons from honors chorus into offensive line play, and how he stopped eating ice cream from the trash can as his older brother may or may not have encouraged him to do as a youth? That kind of story?

Yeah, there are more of those coming. That’s what the spring minicamp/OTA season is for. And we’ll try to bring you a good mix of those and the day-to-day news as the team prepares for training camp.

When there are 90 guys on a roster, plenty of stories will go unreported or underreported. And those, honestly, are my favorite kinds. I can’t wait to find some more.

What is your favorite memory of LUUUUUUKE? — Peter, Newfoundland, NJ

I always admired how gracious he was letting David Mayo and AJ Klein accept cheers for tackles they didn’t even make.

And it also cracked me up when he came to training camp last year and stood behind the bushes during practice, unnoticed, and then slipped quietly into the night without getting much attention. In addition to being one of the best linebackers of a generation, Luke Kuechly is a secret ninja as well.

Looking for a new local coffee shop. What’s your go-to? — David, Charlotte

I keep hearing good things about this new mom-and-pop place called Starbucks. But they always look at me funny when I order a medium coffee, black. It’s like we’re not even speaking the same language.

Do you think that we will trade for Brady? I hope.Gregory, Grapeview, WA

Christensen? Already did that last year. We broke that story EXCLUSIVELY on Panthers.com.

Manek? I would do it for the hair and beard alone.

Tom? Sounds like Fox Sports used a supplemental pick on him already.

That will do it for this week, gang. Stay tuned in the coming days for some more cool stuff, while we dig for more rare treasures in the mail and the recycling bin.

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