Where Does Weinke Fit In Panthers' Plans?

Gino Toretta. Danny Wuerffel. Eric Crouch. Andre Ware. All of these quarterbacks are former Heisman trophy winners that had a rough tenure in the NFL. Add Chris Weinke to that cluster of quarterbacks that, for whatever reason, didn't mirror their college success in the pros. With Weinke's contract in its final year, coupled with the lack of confidence shown by his peers, many believe Weinke's future in Charlotte is cloudy.

In 2001, the Panthers selected the former Florida State quarterback in the 4th round (106th overall). Weinke was thrust into the starting role as a rookie, and performed as well as was expected. He threw for 2,931 yards, which was second to Peyton Manning's 3,793 yards during his rookie season in 1998. As promising on paper that his stats looked, the Panthers went an abysmal 1-15 during the '01 campaign. Exit head coach George Seifert and a conservative mentality, enter John Fox and an aggressive approach to the game. Chris Weinke, who wasn't shown the exit, has been in the rear-view mirror with the organization ever since the start of the '02 season.

During the offseason before the 2002 season, journeyman quarterback Rodney Peete was brought in to serve as a back-up to Chris Weinke. Mainly thought of to help Weinke learn the ropes of being an NFL quarterback. However, shortly after the preseason ended, Fox and Henning named Peete the starter. Needless to say, many around the league were shocked with the decision, including Chris Weinke. In 2002, Weinke told the Associated Press, "By no means am I happy about this, the timing of it is tough. Any competitor wouldn't be happy about it. My goal is to work hard, to go out there everyday and prove that I'm capable of this."

Peete wrapped up the '02 season with a modest 7-9 record. Meanwhile, Weinke filled in for Peete and saw action in six of the games during the 2002 season posting an ugly 26.2 quarterback rating.

Fast forward to the 2003 Carolina Panthers. For the second straight offseason, the Panthers brought in some competition for Weinke. This time, it was 28-year old Jake Delhomme. Delhomme was slated as the back-up to Rodney Peete, relegating Weinke to the third string quarterback. Delhomme earned the starting position in the second half of the home opener against Jacksonville, and hasn't looked back.

This past April, the Panthers used their first selection of day two in the draft to select Louisville quarterback Stefan LeFors. It's too early to tell how good LeFors will be, but it adds more speculation on the lack of confidence in the soon-to-be 33-year old Weinke.

Many feel that Weinke had outplayed Peete the past two preseasons and was deserving of the number two job, but forces out of Weinke's control have left him third on the depth chart. Is Weinke ready to test the free agent waters next year? With his contract running through the '05 season, Weinke will have some decisions to make between now and 2006. All signs point to the Panthers letting Weinke walk after the upcoming season. The organization has two young quarterbacks in LeFors and Rutherford, which has to have Weinke wondering where he fits on the totem pole.

Would Weinke seek a trade then? He told the Associated Press, "The biggest thing for me is to do what I did throughout camp last year and the preseason and just let it play out. Eventually, something has to happen. Either it will work out here or I will go somewhere else."

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