The Carolina Panthers were seemingly having themselves a nice month of January.
Unfortunately, Luke Kuechly’s shocking retirement immediately after the end of the regular season changed the landscape here. Without their team leader and with Cam Newton likely headed out of town, the Panthers are in the midst of dramatic change.
It leads us to this theory. Is it time for the Panthers to tank for Trevor Lawrence?
The idea: It might seem a bit ridiculous on the surface. Give up on an entire season to target a quarterback in the draft one year later. But there’s certainly something to this. We will lay it out below.
The Matt Rhule impact: Baylor’s former head coach signed a seven-year contract to replace Ron Rivera in Carolina. It’s a long-term strategy.
Cam Newton: Despite his injury issues, the Panthers could get something for Newton on the trade block.
Luke Kuechly’s retirement: This shocking move has left a major leadership void throughout the Panthers’ roster.
Trevor Lawrence: Generational talent. There’s no other way to go about it, the 2020 Heisman favorite is one of the most truly talented college prospect in a generation.
1- Tristan Wirfs, offensive tackle, Iowa: One of the biggest issues with Newton in Carolina was the lack of an offensive line in front of the quarterback. No matter who is under center, this must be rectified. Carolina nabs a future Pro Bowl left tackle to help anchor this line for years to come.
2- Jordyn Brooks, linebacker, Texas Tech: Getting someone to fill Kuechly’s shoes is not going to be easy. What the Panthers do here is find a ball-hawking linebacker with starter capabilities moving forward. Brooks (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) fits Phil Snow’s defense to a T. Both Snow and Rhule have firsthand knowledge of his ability from the Big 12.
3- Michael Pittman Jr., wide receiver, USC: There would be absolutely nothing wrong with finding pieces to help someone of Lawrence’s ilk before even having the opportunity to draft him. At 6-foot-4, this big-bodied receiver would be a perfect fit next to Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore at receiver. He’s everything Carolina’s previous regime thought it was getting in Devin Funchess years back.
Trade Cam Newton to the Chicago Bears for 2021 second-round pick and Mitchell Trubisky.
Then trade Mitchell Trubisky to the Patriots for a 2021 second-round pick.
Sign Mackensie Alexander: Carolina would have upward of $50 million to spend in free agency once the team moves on from Newton. It would want to add young talent with upside or veterans on short-term deals. Still only 26 years old and with a wealth of experience, Alexander makes a ton of sense.
Re-sign James Bradberry: The idea here would be to expedite the rebuild by building a tremendous young cornerback duo. A second-round pick back in 2016, Bradberry has started 60 games in four seasons with Carolina. Teaming him up with Alexander would create a great cornerback group for the Panthers for years to come.
Carolina can find the happy medium between being somewhat competitive in 2020 and putting itself in position to land Lawrence at the top of the following year’s draft.
The plan laid out above is the best possible way for this team to do just that. Build for the future with young talent while committing to the long-term plans that came with hiring Rhule in the first place.
In the process, the Panthers can go with either Kyle Allen or Will Grier as the starter next season while relying on Christian McCaffrey in the backfield.
It’s a process that could allow the Panthers to contend as early as 2021 with McCaffrey still being in his prime and Lawrence set to excel as a rookie.