Trading McCaffrey allows Panthers roster to quickly rebuild

Sep 25, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) signals the start of the fourth quarter during the second half against the Clemson Tigers at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) signals the start of the fourth quarter during the second half against the Clemson Tigers at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Last night, the NFL world was rocked when Adam Schefter broke the news that the Carolina Panthers were shipping All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco for a plethora of picks in the next couple of drafts. With a new coach coming, the Panthers roster looks to be headed towards a major retooling. However, having gained additional picks and still potentially moving players like D.J. Moore and Brian Burns, the path for the Panthers roster to become competitive again is starting to become clear.

Getting the Panthers’ roster their quarterback

Since taking over the team, David Tepper has done everything in his power to find the Panthers roster their franchise quarterback. From Cam Newton, to Sam Darnold, to Baker Mayfield to even XFL standout P.J. Walker, Tepper has left no stone unturned in his seemingly never-ending quest. Sadly for Tepper, this quest has mirrored that of Sisyphus with each quarterback failing to pan out.

With Carolina off to a dismal start, the white flags are waving over Bank of America Stadium and more losses will be headed their way very soon, all but guaranteeing a high selection in this year’s draft.

With not many more wins expected, the Panthers should find themselves drafting in the top-5 and have a very real shot of drafting 1 overall. If so, Tepper will likely target one of the talented passers in this years NFL Draft class, including CJ Stroud, Bryce Young and Will Levis.

Existing surrounding talent on Panthers roster

When drafting a quarterback, it is imperative that you have a team in place to help the young signal caller develop. Fortunately, as it stands the Panthers roster has a few of these cornerstone players.

The Wide Receiver

Recent drafts have created the blueprint that a star wide receiver can help a young quarterback adjust to the NFL. The Bills found paired Josh Allen with Stefon Diggs, the Bengals matched Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase and the Jets hope they helped Zach Wilson when they drafted Garrett Wilson.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers roster already has a borderline star wide receiver, on a relatively friendly deal, in D.J. Moore, who has caught at least 66 passes and 1,150 yards in each of the past three seasons.

Moore’s presence on the roster should help a young quarterback develop and it very well could be a mistake if the team moves on from him.

The Offensive Line

Thanks to the 2009 move the Blind Side, even casual football fans can tell you the importance of the Left Tackle position. In Carolina, that spot is held down by rookie Ickey Ekwonu, who the team took 6th overall in the 2022 NFL draft. After needing a few games to get up to NFL speed, Ekwonu has stood out the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the team has the very solid Taylor Moton anchoring the Right Tackle position, who the team locked down with a new contract this past offseason. The Panthers roster also signed Austin Corbett at right guard this past offseason and added left guard Brady Christensen in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

One of the hardest adjustments for a young quarterback is getting used to facing NFL defenses. With a relatively strong and consistent offensive line, Carolina is one of the few destinations that should do a little better keeping their next quarterback upright.

The Defense

An underrated part to helping a young quarterback develop is a good defense that can help keep a team in games. The Patriots defense of the early-2000s ensured a young Tom Brady would get good field position and not have to press to keep his team in games.

When looking at the Panthers roster, there are a few good defenders that should be around for the next head coach and quarterback. Jaycee Horn has quickly established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Meanwhile, Derrick Brown has been one of PFF’s highest rated interior defensive linemens not named Aaron Donald.

The team might also look to lock up star pass rusher Brian Burns but he and linebacker Shaq Thompson could also be flipped ahead of this year’s trade deadline. Either way, the team could have two really strong pass rushers or extra picks in the next draft.

Panthers roster looking forward

As the Panthers roster continues to change, the team will have to look to navigate a less than idea salary cap situation while adding talent in this upcoming draft.

Cap Woes

Unfortunately for Panthers fans, the mismanagement of the salary cap could lead to the team losing more players this offseason instead of adding talent. The team is already over the 2023 salary cap but should be able to recoup some of that money at this year’s trade deadline and next year’s cuts.

Trading Thompson, who should net a decent draft pick, while restructuring the contracts of Moore and Morton will quickly save the team upwards of $34 million, while additional cuts can help save even more cap space.

The 2023 NFL Draft

If the Panthers do not add any additional picks through trades and take a quarterback in the first round, the team will have multiple picks in the second and fourth rounds as well as the 49ers pick in round 3.

The team likely made a mistake this past draft when they traded up to grab Matt Corral in the third round (the team’s second pick after the ill-fated Darnold trade). Corral likely won’t end up the long-term starter and the Panthers also lost their third round pick in the 2023 Draft.

With these picks, don’t be surprised to see the Panthers look to strengthen their wide receiver core and their running back room. The team will see former second round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. move into an expanded role following the Robbie Anderson trade. If Marshall can’t lock down the number 2 job, the Panthers could use one of their two second rounders to add talent.

Meanwhile, neither Chuba Hubbard or Dont’a Foreman have impressed in limited situations and the team could target a young replacement anywhere between rounds 2 and 4.

While the Panthers roster has a ways to go before being competitive again, the trade of McCaffrey was the right first move. With the right moves, this Panthers team could compete a lot sooner than expected.