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How the Carolina Panthers could smartly trade down in the first round of the 2020 draft

Your benevolent dictator of Trade Down Island is back with a proposal for the Panthers to win the draft.

Carolina Panthers pre-draft news conference David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Welcome, loyal subjects! As the benevolent dictator of Trade Down Island it’s once again time for me to invite you to join me on my tropical football paradise where we exploit the biggest advantage in the NFL - smartly trading down! The Carolina Panthers are sitting on the No. 7 pick this year and I’m salivating with the trade down possibilities. But before getting into specific trade scenarios let’s first review the principles we follow at Trade Down Island:

  1. Guesswork: The NFL Draft is educated guesswork. As I’ve written before, in recent years players selected between Nos. 16-18 have outperformed players drafted between Nos. 6-8. Of the last 20 players drafted No. 7 overall, only two have been All-Pros and only three have made the Pro Bowl more than once. That’s not a great hit rate for such a high draft position. It’s easier to guess correctly early in the draft than later, but there are no sure things.
  2. General managers: If you trust your general manager as a talent evaluator with the No. 7 pick you should also trust him with No. 17, for example, plus the other early picks he would get by trading down.
  3. NOT trading down: Do NOT trade down in Round 1 if you are passing up an almost guaranteed franchise-changing, multiple time Pro Bowler like Christian McCaffrey (No. 8) or Luke Kuechly (No 9). The problem, of course, is there are no guarantees in the draft.
  4. Rookie contracts: At TDI we lust over rookie contracts in Rounds 2-3. As a frame of reference, the No. 48 pick (mid 2nd) will have a 4-year, $6.3M contract with a cap hit of about $2.0 million in 2023! Pick No. 80 (mid 3rd) will play on a juicy 4-years, $4.0 million deal. Finding starters in Rounds 2-3 frees up millions in cap space for up to four years.
  5. Late-round picks: Picks in Rounds 5-7 rarely yield value so don’t consider them “wins” when trading down. Instead, teams should trade away these late picks to facilitate other trades or to move up and get “their guy” if he’s still available.

With these guidelines in mind let’s look at a couple of realistic trade down scenarios for the Panthers. And remember, the No. 7 pick has real value. As a reference point in 2018 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded No. 7 and a seventh rounder for No. 12, No. 53, and No. 56. Picking up two extra second round picks by moving down five spots in the first round is a TDI fever dream.

To estimate the value of picks I’m using both the traditional Trade Value Chart (TVC) and the more modern CBS 2020 Draft Pick Value Chart (CBS). Using these charts as a guide, let’s see what the Panthers could potentially get by trading down into the mid-first round (No. 17) and later in the first (No. 26).

Trading down to No. 17

Dallas Cowboys receive: No. 7, No. 152 (1,531 TVC points, 412 CBS points)

Panthers receive: No. 17, No. 51, No. 82 (1,520 TVC points, 410 CBS points)

In this scenario the Panthers give up No. 7 and No. 152 (5th) and get back No. 17, No. 51 (2nd), and No. 82 (3rd). Frankly, I love this move. Good GMs and scouts can still find Pro Bowlers in the middle of the first round, and if they can’t they should be fired. With the No. 17 pick the Panthers would still be able to draft the top prospect or second best prospect at almost any position. Front offices that screw up No. 17 would also probably screw up No. 7.

The value in this trade is the Panthers receive a mid-second round pick (No. 51) where good talent evaluators can find capable starters who will play on dirt-cheap rookie contracts for the next four years. The Panthers additional third round pick (No. 82) could realistically yield a rotational player or spot starter. Unless Carolina is passing on the next Luke Kuechly at No. 7, this trade would greatly please your benevolent dictator.

Trading down to No. 26

Miami Dolphins receive: No. 7 (1,500 TVC points, 402 CBS points)

Panthers receive: No. 26, No. 39, No. 70, No. 141 (1,486 TVC points, 410 CBS)

The first question is whether the Dolphins would really give up three additional picks to move up 19 spots in the first round from No. 26 to No. 7, and the answer is they actually might. Miami currently has 13 picks in the 2020 draft - including five in the Top 60 - and there’s no way they keep all of them. Perhaps the Dolphins fall in love with a prospect who is still available at No. 7 and are willing to sacrifice quality for quantity, as they see it.

Where this trade could make sense for the Panthers is simply filling out their roster with cheap rookie contracts as they look to clear up as much cap space as possible in 2021. Marty Hurney had better be able to find a couple of capable starters at No. 26 and No. 39, a rotational player at No. 70, and then take a gamble on a high upside player at No. 141 (late 4th). And remember, it’s not impossible to find solid players around pick No. 26 with guys like DJ Moore (No. 24) and Shaq Thompson (No. 25) as examples. Conversely, the Panthers could turn this late first round pick into a total miss like Kelvin Benjamin (No. 28) or Vernon Butler (No. 30). Again, the draft is just educated guesswork, but at No. 26 it’s much, much harder to guess correctly than at No. 7 or No. 17.

In this trade the Dolphins receive slightly more Trade Value Chart points while the Panthers receive a little more CBS trade value points, but the numbers are close enough in both scenarios that the deal is fair enough.

Your dictator’s decree

I’m all in on the trade down scenario of moving back from No. 7 to No. 17. Excellent players are still available in the middle of the first round and Carolina could get extra picks in Rounds 2-3, which are delicious. When combined with the Panthers existing picks they would have the following selections in Rounds 1-3:

  • No. 17 (1st)
  • No. 38 (2nd)
  • No. 51 (2nd)
  • No. 69 (3rd)
  • No. 82 (3rd)

For a team looking to rebuild, having four Top 70 picks sounds ideal. Throw in No. 82 for good measure and with a strong draft the Panthers could really shore up some roster gaps on the cheap. Jerry Jones has been known to do crazier things in Dallas than make an equitable draft day trade, so maybe he falls in love with a top prospect and would do the deal.

As far as moving down from No. 7 to No. 26 goes, I think this is sacrificing too much of an opportunity to land a franchise-changing player who may be available earlier in the draft. But who knows? Talent evaluation is an inexact science.

The aspect I haven’t explored enough here is the salary cap benefits of trading down in the first round. I’ll come back to this topic next week, but the salary cap differences between No. 7 and No. 17, for example, can be significant over their four-year duration.

In the meantime, put yourself in Marty Hurney’s shoes. What would you do? Stay put at No. 7, or live the Trade Down Island life?


What would you do as GM of the Panthers?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Stay at No. 7
    (393 votes)
  • 58%
    Trade down to No. 17
    (701 votes)
  • 8%
    Trade down to No. 26
    (107 votes)
1201 votes total Vote Now