What madness is this, you ask? Well NCByrdman beat me to this fanpost idea with one that was better than what I was intending (as it includes guys that the Panthers could target after trading down, a good list of potential prospects check it out) so I figured that I would expand on his idea.
I have already stated that the Panthers should do whatever it takes to hold onto Greg Hardy because the problems created by retaining All-Pro talent always exceed the problems created by not having All-Pro talent. To put it another way, salary cap problems are not created by giving big contracts to guys like Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Cam Newton, Ryan Kalil and Luke Kuechly. Instead, salary cap problems are created by giving non-Pro Bowl caliber guys like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey bigger contracts than they deserve because you were the guy who drafted them. (And even when dealing with Pro Bowl players, giving a 4 year $30 million deal with $15 million guaranteed to a 32 year old WR isn't that good of an idea either, even if that WR is Steve Smith.)
I have also stated previously that creative structuring where most of Greg Hardy's guaranteed money would be in years 3 and 4 of the deal (this is not backloading) instead of in the signing bonus could actually help the Panthers' short term salary cap issues more than would franchising him and then letting him leave after this season (although not as much as franchising and trading him or just letting him walk). OK then, so what is the downside?
The Panthers are only about $15 million under the cap and have an incredible 21 free agents. Even if they let Hardy walk, simply fielding a 53 man roster would be a challenge next season when you consider that the veteran minimum is about $750,000. Now the Panthers could fill out the bottom of the roster with players who aren't fully vested veterans that have been released by other teams, for whom the Panthers would only pay $405,000, the equivalent of almost 2 vested veterans. As a matter of fact, it can be said that by signing Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King to be the bottom of the WR depth chart this season, Gettleman is already doing so.
The problem with that approach: the Panthers would be picking up players that other teams have already given up on. It is kind of OK if you are only seeking practice depth - which is all McNutt and King were this season as neither of them had a pass thrown their way until the very end of the season when injuries to the WRs forced the Panthers to activate one - but not OK if you are looking for guys who will actually have to play.
So there brings us to another approach: the draft. Right now, the Panthers FINALLY have 7 picks in a 7 round draft (hooray!). But with a couple of trade down deals, they could perhaps get 10 or 11 guys without giving up too much value.
NCByrdman stated that the Panthers should deal their 1st round pick for a 2nd and a 3rd. I agree. The reason is that because of where the Panthers most badly need players - OT and WR - the guys with 1st round grades are going to be gone anyway. Instead of reaching for a Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson or Kelvin Benjamin at #28, trade down and get Marqise Lee. But they should not stop there. With successive moves, the Panthers could perhaps add an additional 3rd and 5th round pick while keeping at least 1 of their 2nd round picks. If the Panthers could wind up with, say, a 2nd rounder, a pair of 3rds, three picks in the 4th round and a pair of 5ths, that would give them the same amount of picks in the 1st 3 rounds to fill immediate needs but many more picks in the 4th and 5th rounds for depth and to try to identify A.J. Kleins and Captain Munnerlyns.
That would also allow a "double up" draft strategy. For example:
2nd round: WR
3rd round: OT
3rd round: OT
4th round: CB
4th round: CB
4th round: WR
5th round: TE
5th round: BPA
6th round: BPA
7th round: BPA
If this strategy is done right, the Panthers can actually increase the net value of their picks. One of the thing that stinks about drafting so late is that you draft later in each round: the bottom of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc., making each pick essentially a round later. This really hurts after the 3rd round when teams start getting their compensatory picks. But by giving up their 1st rounder, the Panthers may be able to draft earlier in rounds 2, 3 and 4. Giving up the 1st when it isn't a value pick for the positions that the Panthers need anyway in return for being able to draft in the middle of rounds 3 and 4 instead of the end is a good deal, especially if you are able to give up the fantasy about the Panthers' being able to land the next Anquan Boldin, Russell Okung or Walter Thurmond at #28 and have that guy lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Instead, when you are picking later in the draft, it is more about value, building depth, getting guys who will develop, and ultimately getting more good players than bad ones than about locating some rookie Pro Bowler that for some reason every other team in the NFL passed up.
Of course, an alternative would be to trade Hardy and have $6-7 million more dollars to buy a half dozen more veteran free agents for about $1 million each. Whoopee. Sounds real exciting! Or, really, not. I would rather have Hardy and a couple of extra 4th round picks. But hey, that is just me.