After the Carolina Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule on Monday, speculation about the team’s pre-trade deadline plans immediately ran rampant. Will the Panthers hold a firesale and sell off every attractive piece of their roster? Or will they sit tight and hope their current alignment will appeal to prospective head coaching candidates?
For now, let’s indulge in that speculation and identify the best potential landing spots for Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, and other Panthers players in limbo.
Best Landing Spots for Carolina Panthers Trade Candidates
The Panthers have a lot of talent on their roster, so if they do decide to start shipping players out before the Nov. 1 trade deadline, they should receive solid returns.
One player we didn’t include is linebacker Shaq Thompson, one of Carolina’s longest-tenured players and the successor to Luke Kuechly as the Panthers’ defensive leader. He’s a franchise cornerstone, and it seems unlikely Carolina would trade him for what would likely be a mid-round draft pick.
Christian McCaffrey, RB | Buffalo Bills
McCaffrey is the Panthers’ highest-profile trade candidate, but he may also be the most difficult to move. NFL teams are passing at higher rates than ever before, and although CMC is arguably the league’s best receiving back, RB targets are more inefficient than throws to wide receivers or tight ends.
There’s also a money problem. McCaffrey is in the first year of a four-year, $64 million extension that makes him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. While his base salary is at the league minimum this season, it balloons to roughly $12 million per year from 2023-25.
Almost none of that future cash is guaranteed, but it’s hard to imagine a team giving up significant draft capital for CMC if they don’t plan to keep him beyond this year.
Thus, as we search for possible suitors, we’re looking for a contending team that might believe a running back could put them over the top — and the Bills are the clear answer.
Buffalo is second in the NFL in offensive EPA per play, but they’re in the bottom five in rushing efficiency. Although McCaffrey wouldn’t solve that issue on his own, he’d represent a start in the right direction.
Josh Allen has also demonstrated the willingness to check the ball down as opposing defenses take away his deep threats, and McCaffrey would slot in as a tantalizing weapon in the passing game.
There are plenty of reasons why this trade wouldn’t work. The Bills have spent one second-rounder (James Cook) and two third-rounders (Devin Singletary and Zack Moss) on running backs over the past four years. The Bills’ front office is analytically-inclined, so they may not be interested in acquiring a highly-paid RB.
On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the Carolina ties in Buffalo. Head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane previously worked for the Panthers, and the two teams have made several trades over the years. That relationship could prove vital if a McCaffrey trade is on the table.
DJ Moore, WR | Green Bay Packers
While getting McCaffrey’s contract off the books would count as a win for the Panthers, it will likely take an outsized offer for them to consider trading Moore. They’d have to eat nearly $20 million in signing bonus money to trade the 25-year-old receiver they just extended in March.
Moore, a 1,000-yard receiver in each of the last three seasons, has only posted a 17-191-1 line through five games, but that production is largely a result of horrific quarterback play. Let’s move him to a team with a future Hall of Famer under center.
At Davante Adams’ request, the Packers traded the veteran wideout to the Raiders over the offseason. Green Bay’s passing offense has subsequently looked disjointed, and Aaron Rodgers’ frustration has been evident.
Moore would instantly replace Adams as Green Bay’s WR1 and give Rodgers a legitimate threat for the rest of his career. A move for Moore would hardly signify the Packers giving up on rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs — it would simply move them farther down the depth chart and remove any pressure for them to produce immediately.
While Moore is on a minimum salary for 2022, Green Bay would have to figure out how to handle his hefty cap hits from 2023-25. Still, that’s a problem worth solving.
Robbie Anderson, WR | Indianapolis Colts
Moore is the long-term play for teams in need of wide receiver help. Anderson, meanwhile, is the short-term option.
Between his base salary and roster bonus, Anderson is owed nearly $12 million in 2023. None of that money is guaranteed, and unless the former New York Jet somehow puts up an All-Pro performance over the second half of the season, no team would be willing to pay it. If a team acquires Anderson, they’re getting him for the rest of 2022, and that’s it.
The Packers could be an option for Anderson if they don’t want to take a big swing on Moore, but the Colts also stand out as a potential landing spot.
When Indy is in 11 personnel, they can trot out Michael Pittman Jr. and ascending rookie Alec Pierce. But Parris Campbell hasn’t been effective even when he’s been healthy enough to get on the field.
Anderson is no one’s idea of a WR1. Having said that, the Colts are floundering on offense. If Indianapolis’ offensive line is somewhat ameliorated by its recent reshuffle, pass catcher is the next item on the to-do list.
Terrace Marshall Jr., WR | Chicago Bears
Marshall never seemed to get a fair shake with the Panthers. After being selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the LSU product garnered just 30 targets and 17 receptions in his rookie season. This year, Marshall has only been active for two out of five games.
The Bears are throwing the ball less than any team in the NFL, and their first-year coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust Justin Fields. Yet, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to acquire more receiving talent if it comes at an affordable cost.
General manager Ryan Poles traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for former first-rounder N’Keal Harry over the summer, and Marshall could be another reclamation project for the Bears. I’d love to see Chicago move the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Marshall out of the slot and see if he can win on the outside.
Taylor Moton, OT | Tennessee Titans
We examined Moton’s trade value earlier this week, and I theorized the Panthers would likely want at least a second-round pick in exchange for their longtime right tackle. Several teams have a dire need along the offensive line, and the Titans are among that group.
Moton has played a bit of left tackle in the past, and that’s where he could slot in for Tennessee. Taylor Lewan is out for the rest of the season, so the Titans have relied on Dennis Daley (coincidentally, a former Panther) on Ryan Tannehill’s blindside.
Long-term, Moton could move back to the right side. Tennessee recently whiffed on early-round RT prospects in Isaiah Wilson and Dillon Radunz, and they’re currently starting third-round rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere.
The Titans looked poised to take a step back this season, and they still might. But they’re 3-2 and leading the AFC South at the moment, and FiveThirtyEight gives them a 64% chance of making the playoffs.
Bradley Bozeman, C | Los Angeles Rams
No offensive line has been hit harder by injuries than the Rams’, and they already had questions up front before those health issues set in. Los Angeles is starting second-, third-, and even fourth-stringers along the interior of their OL.
Starting center Brian Allen could return soon, but he’s already been ruled out for Week 6. Bozeman can fill in at the pivot until Allen comes back, then shift to left guard where he started for Baltimore from 2019-20.
Although he was expected to draw extensive free agent interest over the offseason, Bozeman ultimately landed with Carolina on a one-year, $2.8 million deal. He couldn’t beat out Pat Elflein for the starting center job, and he’s only played special teams snaps this season.
Still, Bozeman would represent a massive upgrade for the Rams. The 6-foot-5, 314-pounder makes more sense in a power run game than LA’s zone scheme, but the Rams will take what they can get at this point.
Brian Burns, EDGE | Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have never shied away from trading for front-seven help. In 2020, they sent a fifth-round pick to the Jaguars for Calais Campbell in March before shipping third- and fifth-rounders to the Vikings for Yannick Ngakoue in October.
Burns would be significantly more expensive than either of those additions. He’s only 24 years old and under contract through 2023 at very affordable rates. And he’s been dominant this season, posting the third-most pressures in the league through five games, per PFF.
The Panthers would surely ask for a least a first-round pick in return for Burns, and Baltimore might be willing to meet that ask. All-Pro-level edge rushers just don’t become available all that often.
The Ravens recently signed Jason Pierre-Paul and designated David Ojabo and Tyus Bowser to return from injured reserve, and they already have Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston on their roster. Still, Baltimore’s front office knows value when they see it, and they might jump at the chance to acquire someone like Burns.
Derrick Brown, DT | Cleveland Browns
The Browns got the 2022 trade season off to a hot start by acquiring linebacker Deion Jones from the Falcons earlier this week. Cleveland’s run defense has been poor enough that Jones shouldn’t be the only move they make over the next three weeks.
Joe Woods’ defense has given up more than 200 rushing yards in each of its last two games, including 238 to the Chargers in Week 5. Taven Bryan, Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai, and Perrion Winfrey comprised one of the least imposing units in the league heading into the season, and they unsurprisingly haven’t gotten the job done through five games.
Brown was probably over-drafted at seventh overall in 2020, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an exemplary run defender. He’d help beef up Cleveland’s interior, and he’s on his rookie deal through 2023.
The Browns expended much of their future draft capital in the Deshaun Watson trade, so they have to be careful about giving up too many picks. If Cleveland can’t make a deal work, the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers stand out as possible suitors.
Donte Jackson, CB | New York Giants
Improbably, the Giants are trade deadline buyers after starting the season 4-1. New York wasn’t exactly expecting to compete in 2022, and their roster is full of holes. It’s a testament to Brian Daboll and the rest of the coaching staff that Big Blue should think about adding — instead of subtracting — at this point in the year.
The Giants could think about bringing in bodies at wide receiver or along the offensive line, but we want to help them fix their secondary. Through five games, New York has relied on journeyman Fabian Moreau as their other outside corner opposite Adoree’ Jackson. Moreau has played well, but it’s fair to wonder how long he can hold up.
Donte Jackson isn’t a world-beater by any means, but he’s been a league-average cornerback for four-plus years. The Panthers extended him in the spring, so they’d have to be willing to eat the rest of his $10 million signing bonus. They’d likely be okay with that outcome if it results in acquiring a mid-round pick.
Xavier Woods, S | Buffalo Bills
We’ll wrap up by going back to the Carolina-to-Buffalo well. The Bills have long boasted the NFL’s best safety duo, but Micah Hyde is out for the season, and Jordan Poyer has also been banged up.
In need of depth, Buffalo could make a deal for Woods, who joined the Panthers this offseason following an excellent year with the Cowboys. Capable of playing deep or in the box, Woods’ skill set would fit in nicely with the rest of the Bills’ defensive backfield.
Even if Buffalo feels good about reserves Damar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson, adding Woods wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Bills are thin in the secondary, so bringing in veteran depth for the stretch run is advisable.