With the release of quarterback Cam Newton, defensive tackle Kawann Short is the lone player that has been continuously under contract with Carolina Panthers since the Super Bowl team in 2015.
Presumably, the only reason Short is still on the roster is because of his impossible-to-trade cap figure and dead cap accumulation.
In the early stages of this new era, Carolina has mostly let players depart including the likes of James Bradberry, Mario Addison, Greg Van Roten and Gerald McCoy. There have also been some veteran additions in the form of Teddy Bridgewater, Robby Anderson, John Miller and Tahir Whitehead but nothing in the form of significant difference-makers that puts Carolina anywhere near contention.
With the initial wave of free agency now in the rearview mirror, it’s unlikely to see any vital additions to Carolina’s roster and the attention now shifts to the upcoming draft. The Panthers are armed with the seventh-overall pick and have an important decision to make on what to do with their top selection.
Trading up, even for a quarterback, doesn’t make much sense given the current state of the roster. Picking behind the quarterback-needy Bengals, Dolphins and Chargers, the only way the Panthers could land one of the top-three passers is to make a move up the order — that should not be a consideration. Carolina has to focus on getting better infrastructure for when it does make an investment in a new franchise quarterback, and that opportunity could come in next year’s draft in the form of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Carolina is among the leaders in the clubhouse to land a top quarterback prospect next year, but missing out would be a huge disappointment. And that’s why what the Panthers do with their top-10 pick is so critical.
What should Carolina do with the seventh-overall pick? Make sure it secures an additional first-round pick in 2021 and trade back as far as it takes to land a team’s top selection next year.
The Panthers could stand pat and land a premier defensive player like Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown or Javon Kinlaw. But nothing will be more significant for the long-term success of the Panthers and newly-minted head coach Matt Rhule being successful than getting the quarterback position right.
The blueprint for trading back to acquire an additional first-round pick has already been set with trades from recent drafts.
In 2017, the Buffalo Bills traded back from No. 10 to No. 27 and secured the Chiefs’ top pick in 2018 while the Cleveland Browns executed a similar move down the order from No. 12 to No. 25 with the Texans and acquired Houston’s first-round selection in 2018. In 2018, the Green Bay Packers slid back from No. 14 to No. 27 and landed the Saints first-round pick in 2019.
Carolina has an even higher pick than any of the aforementioned teams and there’s a chance a whole lot more than just a 2021 first-round selection could be part of a trade back package. Such a move to acquire premium draft capital for 2021 is paramount, especially considering the other leader in the clubhouse in the 2021 quarterback sweepstakes is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who already own multiple first-round selections in 2021 due to Jalen Ramsey’s trade.
Trades are easy to suggest in theory, but who are some realistic teams that could move up to No. 7 and part with that coveted top pick in 2021?
The New England Patriots sit at pick No. 24 and suddenly have the worst quarterback room in the NFL. Could Jordan Love be a trade-up target for them?
The Minnesota Vikings have two first-round picks (Nos. 22 and 25) with major needs at wide receiver and defensive line. They could land the top player at either position. Perhaps the Seahawks, Ravens or Titans who each pick in the late 20s believe they are one blue-chip talent away from making a serious Super Bowl run. Miami picks at Nos. 18 and 26 and is loaded with two picks in next year’s first round. Maybe the Dolphins would like to shoot up the order for top talent to go with the quarterback they are likely to select at fifth overall.
There are realistic options and Carolina should strongly consider taking a tumble down the order, netting premium capital in 2021 and making sure they are in a position to land a new franchise signal-caller next season. This upcoming year is likely to be challenging for the Panthers but brighter days are coming if it means Lawrence is running Brady’s offense in 2021 and beyond.