The NFL trade deadline is nine days away and Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has been mentioned often in trade suggestions. While the Panthers have little need for another running back in 2013, moving him would be fiscally irresponsible.
An obvious landing spot for Stewart would be New York, where the Giants are in dire need of a running back and the teams have already executed one trade in 2013, sending linebacker Jon Beason to New York for a late-round pick. Gil Brandt suggested a rare player trade, one that would send Stewart to the Giants for discontent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.
The move make a lot of sense from a football standpoint. New York gets a running back, the Panthers get another much-needed weapon for Cam Newton, but the logicality of the trade ends here.
Stewart is owed $7.4 million in guaranteed money from the contract extension he signed in 2012. This money would be accelerated at the time of trade, immediately hitting Carolina's cap and taking over 50-percent of the free space expected to roll into 2014. Pair this with Nicks' remaining salary this season ($1.53 million) and this number would be eaten into further.
Some of this cap loss would be mitigated by Stewart's scheduled salary in 2014, where the running back is expected to make a $1.5 million base salary, but a trade would still mean eating up over $6 million in available cap space. This would happen before any discussion of extending Nicks who's in the last year of his deal, and doesn't include trying to re-sign defensive end Greg Hardy, which the Panthers seem interested in doing.
The Panthers have roughly $113 million against the cap in 2014, slate in a $6 million loss in rollover money and obvious cuts, the Panthers have roughly $12 million to operate next season. This is paying an estimated 44 players, without extensions for Hardy and Nicks factored in. Need to pay your rookie class, upgrade in free agency and sign two high-priced veterans with $12 million? Good luck with that.
Trading Stewart in 2013 makes no sense. The more prudent move (and what we'll likely see happen) is the Panthers pay and play him through the end of 2014, then release him in the offseason. At that point his cut figure would reduce to $5.1 million with a slated 2015 cap hit of $8.8 million.
If you're trying to predict NFL trades this is what you need to look at: Cut cap hit vs. future cap hit, and if the latter exceeds the former when the player is underperforming then you can expect a move. This is what happened with Jon Beason and the reason Chris Gamble was released in the off-season.
In a perfect world these moves could be dictated solely by need on the field, but there are financial realities. The far more sensible move is to keep Stewart, retain the near-$20 million the Panthers will have in 2014 and make a run at Nicks in free agency rather the push for a trade now our of desperation.
Is a trade impossible? No, but it's illogical. Most general managers tend to operate with logic, especially Super Bowl winning ones like Jerry Reese and the fiscally responsible Dave Gettleman.