Why the Carolina Panthers Should Think About Making Some Trades

Steve O Speak

When it comes to making deals in the NFL, football has plenty of offseason activity, but during the season trades are fairly non-existent. Part of this has to do with learning the playbook, and timing with players, as there is probably a steeper learning curve than in any other sport at any other position. The other factor is that the trade deadline is early in the NFL, after week 6. At a time where most teams don’t yet know if they are out of the playoff hunt or not yet.

This year though things could be different. While the deadline is still early, more teams this year will likely already know their fate. Also, with no salary cap this season teams acquiring players won’t need to worry about fitting them under (maybe long term, but not for anyone who’s contract is up). Also with a new CBA looming, there could be changes in the restricted free agent or Franchise player compensation, which would make teams who are out of it more likely to dump a player now than wait until the offseason and maybe lose him for nothing. Also, with likely a new salary cap system in place and a strong free agent class (remember guys coming off their rookie deals last year ended up being restricted free agents under the no salary cap provision, that will likely revert back to the old number of years, essentially meaning this will be like two free agent classes rolled into one), teams might want to clear money off their books. While some might say that the uncertainty of the CBA could limit trading, contenders will always try to improve, even if next year they have to move money around or cut a player. While there are a number of teams that should look to treat this trade deadline (and even sooner) like MLB’s, I think the Panthers need to be very active in the next month.

The biggest name the Panthers should look to move, won’t be going anywhere despite it being probably the best for the organization. If I was running the Panthers, I’d look to deal Steve Smith to one of the receiver hungry teams on the open market. Smith would be very marketable to other teams, as his contract is pricey but fair. He is owed roughly $15 million between in 2011 and 2012, and only another $3.5 million for the rest of this year (depends on when he is traded). That is pretty affordable and doesn’t hinder teams long term. Smith has shown no real signs of decline (outside from the fact the Panthers’ QB play is pretty awful), and would be effective for any team for the length of the deal. He could probably net the Panthers at least a pair of 2nd round picks and an additional player. Which is a good return considering the Panthers likely won’t be contending in the next couple of years while Smith is under contract, and they could use that money on additional free agents this offseason.

While I think trading Smith is worth the risk, I realize it will probably never happen. The Panthers are now going with rookie Jimmy Clausen under center and they will want to give him his best weapon. It makes sense, but honestly it’s probably too early to go to Clausen so mitigating one bad decision with another is not going to help this team become any more successful.

One star player who could get traded would be starting running back DeAngelo Williams. Williams is one of the best running backs in the league, but he is an impending free agent. Even if their is no change to the Franchise tag compensation, do the Panthers want to go down that route? Plenty of players holdout, and it can hinder negotiations, and it will be a large financial hold against their cap (this year’s number for running backs was $8.15, and will only go up next year). I don’t think having over $8 million committed to one running back, when you still have Jonathan Stewart on the roster (who will make less than a fourth of that) makes much sense. I don’t see why Williams would sign a team friendly deal, and otherwise he is just too pricey for their roster needs. In addition to Stewart the Panthers have Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton on the roster, both capable of being the speedy back compliment to Stewart (and both would be at worst number 2 backs on the majority of teams in this league). What is the point to try to keep Williams, just to go through the Franchise tag hassle this offseason (not to mention when there is a chance that it all changes). Since the price will be high (at least a 1st and a 3rd, probably a little more) there won’t be many teams in the market, but I’d expect the Packers and Patriots (who already own the Panthers 2nd round pick, and have an additional 1st rounder) to come calling. And their are a handful of other teams that might be interested. Some fans might miss Williams, but the Panthers have the depth to do without him, and could jump-start their rebuilding process with the move.

While no other player is as big of a name as Williams or Smith, the Panthers have a few other guys who should attract interest. Cornerback Richard Marshall is an impending free agent and capable of starting on most teams in the league. While his loss will sting nickel back Captain Munnerlyn is ready to take over. It will hurt the Panthers overall depth, but they should be able to get at least a 2nd rounder for him (or the equivalent). While Marshall is pretty good, the Panthers might not want to make the big financial commitment to keep him when Munnerlyn is ready to start. Defensive end Charles Johnson has worked his way to become a pretty good starter with the Panthers, but is in the last year of his rookie deal, while he might end up being a rookie free agent depending on how the new CBA shakes out, there are no guarantees. This trade would be a bit more risky given more of the unknown, but could still makes sense for the Panthers. While Johnson is a good starter, the Panthers have excellent depth along the defensive line, particularly at end. They have drafted well at the position the past few years, and could cash Johnson in for a couple solid picks, and use the money you’d need to resign him to address another weaker position. Another reason that might make sense in moving Johnson (as well as all these players, but especially Johnson) is the likelihood of a coaching change after this season.  John Fox is on the way out and a new coach will be heading up the Panthers next year. Whether it is the head coach that brings in the new system (Bill Cowher) or a defensive coordinator, it could be possible the Panthers will look to switch to a 3-4 (in a lot of areas they have the personnel). Johnson does not fit in that system and would not be good as a linebacker. Trading him now assures you get value for him, and you aren’t desperate to trade him (or let him walk in free agency) later.

It is likely a long year for the Panthers football team this year, and none of these deals will salvage this season, but they can make this team more competitive as soon as next year, and if they play their cards right a contender the following season. While the Panthers aren’t the only team that should look to go down this route, they might be the most likely team.

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