All right. I am continuing my pattern of responding to (stalking) James Dator by corresponding with his: NFL trade deadline 2013: Trading Jonathan Stewart is a bad idea. First things first: I am going to have some more fun with his "Brandon LaFell is quietly the key to the Panthers offense and is developing like Muhsin Muhammed and needs more balls thrown his way" thing. Today: Panthers 30, Rams 15. Cam Newton: 15-17 for 204 yards. LaFell? 3 catches for 35 yards. Newton, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Greg Olsen were more important to the offense in that game than was LaFell. Who was only slightly more important than was Ted Ginn (2 catches for 34 yards). Winning football games by double digits is fun, but the reality is that the Panthers are going to need more than 306 yards of total offense at home against a bad team if they are going to make the playoffs this year. For that to happen, LaFell is going to have to become more than "'a good blocker and a 'quiet key to the offense" and fast.
Instead, he has to become more like Hakeem Nicks, someone who is actually a good, productive difference-making NFL player. (And get this: where LaFell turns 27 in a couple of weeks, Nicks is only 25). And even though Nicks is not exactly on among the A.J. Green/Julio Jones/Calvin Johnson/Demaryius Thomas caliber of big time WRs, he is at the next level: a consistently productive possession WR who can make big plays. He would be the perfect first piece for the Panthers to start the rebuilding of their offense just as Gettleman was able to - in a shockingly fast and extremely effective manner - rebuild the defense by ignoring "the Panthers biggest need a #1 CB!" prattle that Pat Yasinkas at ESPN was screaming and recognizing that the best way to get the quickest impact on defense was strengthening the interior line to the benefit of the talent at DE and LB.
Now I disagree with the idea that trading him straight up for Stewart is a bad idea for the Panthers because of the cap problem. Picking up a talent like Nicks is worth the short term cap problems for one thing. And if you absorb the salary cap hit in 2014, then that clears one of the Panthers' biggest cap problems off the books for 2015 and beyond. Another thing: it would be relatively easy to get Stewart to agree to restructuring his contract as part of the trade, especially if the Giants are willing to make a commitment to him that the Panthers are not (because the Panthers are likely going to release him as soon as they are going to be able to afford to). Further, it would free the Panthers from the "we have to build a great offensive line and go with a pound the football strategy because we have so much invested in our tailbacks" logic. Instead, it would be full steam ahead with building a passing offense around Newton. Nicks is the #1 WR, Olsen would be able to settle into a role that actually fits him at TE instead of making his "bad Owen Daniels impression", Smitty could hang on a couple more years in the slot, and the Panthers would only need to get a deep threat on the outside, and a deep threat #2 WR isn't that hard.
Yes, the Panthers would have to clear the cap room to make it work, but again consider this: the Panthers are a terrible team in terms of talent on the roster. Who is it on this roster that the Panthers could not survive without? Let's see: there's Newton at QB, Kalil at center, Olsen at TE, Gross at LT, Smitty at WR. Really, that's it, and getting Nicks would mitigate the impact of letting a declining Smitty go if they had to. On defense there are slightly more, bit it is basically Johnson, Star, Short, Davis, Hardy and Kuechly. And here is the funniest thing: most of these guys are on their rookie deals. Newton, Star, Short, Hardy and Kuechly are all making $4 million a year or less, and in the case of Hardy and Short significantly less. So if they can add a 25 year old #1 WR (not quite at Pro Bowl level but a guy with #1 WR skills and productivity nonetheless) without touching the core of the team why not do it?
So if it is not a bad deal for the Panthers, then who is it a bad idea for? Simple: the Giants. Why? A) Because the Giants would take on an enormous contract when Manning, Cruz, a couple of offensive linemen and a lot of guys on their DL have big ones already. B) Because the Giants just invested a #1 pick in David Wilson. Wilson isn't as good as Stewart and has been somewhat disappointing (fumbles his rookie season and now an injury) but the Giants are nowhere near ready to give up on him, and further do so for an RB who has his own injury history.
So ... instead of trading Stewart for Nicks, a better idea: dealing a draft pick for him. Is Nicks worth a 1st round pick? Of course, especially if the Panthers keep winning. (And if the Panthers add Nicks now they will ... it will be difficult imagining them not getting to at least 9 wins with Nicks in the fold, and perhaps even 10.) Also, let's face it. Even though the NFL's new rules and the proliferation of spread and other passing offenses in the NFL has increased the number of high draft picks at WR who pan out, wide receiver is still the position with the biggest bust rate. Far better to trade that #1 pick for a productive WR - a sure thing - than to gamble on that pick. And even better: it might not even take a #1 pick to land Nicks. The Giants are afraid of losing Nicks in free agency for nothing. (Well not for nothing, they would get a compensatory pick for him.) So word is that he can be had for a 3rd round pick, which is the highest compensatory pick they can get for him. (And that pick would be at the bottom of the 3rd round, so for all intents and purposes a 4th round pick. And they would have to wait until the 2015 draft to get it.) So why don't the Panthers just step up and give up a 2nd rounder?
Yes, he is "disgruntled." But for good reason. The Giants gave a ton of money to Victor Cruz, meaning there isn't enough left for Nicks. As a matter of fact, Nicks has pretty much been replaced by Rueben Randle - who is more talented than Nicks - in their long term plans, and Nicks knows it. And yes, the Panthers would have to pay Nicks soon. But deciding to choose offense over defense by giving Nicks the money that they were going to give Greg Hardy would make paying him a lot easier. It is simple: Greg Hardy has turned down the Panthers' offer for $8 million a year, and as well he should. Hardy is 26, didn't make much on his 6th round deal, and this is his only shot at a big contract. If he takes that $32 million now, he will be 30 coming off his next deal, and will have only 3-4 years left. Hardy has 4 sacks already, and if he can get 7-8 more (and they play 2 games against the Bucs and immobile Mike Glennon as well as 2 games against the Falcons' horrible offensive line, then 2 more games with young QBs who tend to hold the ball too long against Miami and Jets it is certainly possible) then Hardy will demand and likely get $12 million a year. The Panthers can't pay him that much considering that Johnson is already early in his $76 million deal, plus the Panthers will have to also pay Kuechly and Newton soon.
But giving Nicks the money that you were going to give Hardy? That would put the Panthers well towards satisfying his demands. Nicks is not a $12 million a year receiver, as he has never reached 1200 receiving yards even with Eli Manning getting him the ball. But $8 million a year? That is more like it.
Of course, if Nicks' contract demands are unreasonable, don't do the trade. And of course, do not do the trade unless it includes Nicks signing a long term deal first. That is difficult, as he will technically be a Giant until he is actually traded, but there has to be some way to make sure that the Panthers don't give up a high pick for a guy who walks at the end of this season. Unfortunately, you can't do "sign and trades" in the NFL like you can the NBA because Nick's signing bonus would crush the Giants' cap in 2014, so they aren't going to go for it.
But presuming that the Panthers can somehow bind Nicks to signing a contract as part of the trade deal, Gettleman should definitely be on the phone offering his 2nd rounder for Nicks. Giving up a 2nd rounder for Nicks so they could use their #1 pick on an OT and still have their 3rd rounder to strengthen the secondary (or pick up another WR or a TE) would be almost ideal.