The Carolina Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule on Monday, but that might not be the only big move you see from the organization in the coming days. At 1-4, the team looks like one of the worst in the league and recently lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to a high-ankle sprain. Even though it’s only October, it’s safe to assume that the 2022 Carolina Panthers are essentially finished. There isn’t enough talent to compete this year, so should the Panthers initiate a fire sale and load up on draft picks for the next regime?
Carolina Panthers Should Consider A Fire Sale
The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, so giving up on the season after just five weeks can be a drastic decision, especially in a weak division. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently lead the NFC South with a 3-2 record, but quarterback Tom Brady doesn’t look like his elite self this year. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, both have glaring weaknesses all over their respective rosters and probably won’t emerge as legitimate contenders. On paper, the division is very much up for grabs, and if the Panthers have even the slightest prayer of righting the ship, they should hold on for at least a few more weeks.
Unfortunately, the Panthers don’t have a prayer. Losing Matt Rhule is addition by subtraction, but the issues with this roster are too deep for an interim coach to fix. D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey are the only viable offensive weapons on the roster, the offensive line is still a subpar unit, and the defense isn’t playing up to its potential. Perhaps Steve Wilks will get more out of Carolina’s roster than Rhule could, but he’s not Andy Reid. The last time we saw Wilks lead a team, he guided the 2018 Arizona Cardinals to the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Putting the cherry on top of this unfortunate sundae is Baker Mayfield’s injury. The former Cleveland Browns quarterback suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 5’s loss and will be sidelined for the immediate future. Say what you will about Mayfield’s play (it hasn’t been great), but he’s clearly better than P.J. Walker. Walker has not impressed during his limited time on the NFL stage, and if it weren’t for injuries, he’d likely be Carolina’s fourth-best quarterback.
#Panthers QB Baker Mayfield suffered a high-ankle sprain in Sunday’s game, sources say. That means he’ll miss time, but how much will be determined by more tests and opinions. PJ Walker in line to start at QB this week vs. the #Rams.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 10, 2022
Quite frankly, it’s hard to imagine any world where the Panthers are even remotely competitive in 2022. Instead of delaying the inevitable, the Panthers should get ahead of the trade market and embrace the fire sale. The only question is, which players will go?
Who To Sell?
When considering who to deal for picks, the Panthers need to keep the short- and long-term needs of the team in sight. It should go without saying that other teams won’t give up valuable draft picks for past-their-prime veterans. Getting something of value for Robbie Anderson would be great, but would any team actually be interested? On the other side of the coin, Carolina should also make sure they don’t give up anyone they deem to be a crucial part to their rebuild. For instance, Brian Burns could likely fetch a strong return in a trade, but he’s only 24 and the Panthers would probably love to build their defense around his game.
Right off the bat, there is one clear trade candidate: Christian McCaffrey. After two injury-plagued years, the former first-round pick is back on the field and hasn’t lost a step. Through five weeks of action, McCaffrey has handled his usual massive workload and enters Week 6 as PFF’s fifth-best running back. Running backs aren’t that valuable in today’s NFL, but there is likely a contender or two that would be interested in securing his services. At 26, McCaffrey might be past his prime when the Panthers complete their rebuild, but he’d be a great fit to put a team like Buffalo over the top.
4-6 teams have reached out to the #Panthers about the status of RB Christian McCaffrey, per source.
We could be in for a full rebuild in Carolina. pic.twitter.com/ELuhfuUf61
— Michael Balko (@MichaelBalkoJr) October 10, 2022
While it’s less likely, the Panthers could also look into trading D.J. Moore. Moore plays a much more valuable position than McCaffrey and is two years younger, so the Panthers might consider him to be a core piece of the franchise. That being said, the wide receiver market exploded over the past few months, and there is a chance that some team makes Carolina an offer they can’t refuse. Everything in this world has a price, and Moore is easily the most valuable player on Carolina’s roster right now.