In this series we are looking back on Scott Fitterer’s second year as the Carolina Panthers general manager and assessing his performance in salary cap management (here), free agent signings (here), the 2022 draft (here), and player trades. This week we’ll review Fitterer’s performance when it comes to wheeling and dealing with players.
A “C” grade means Fitterer got fair value for what could have been reasonably expected for the trade. Anything above a “C” means Fitterer got more than what should have been expected in the deal, and anything below a “C” means he didn’t meet expectations.
Traded for Baker Mayfield
Panthers received: QB Baker Mayfield
Panthers sent out: ‘24 5th Rd.
Did Baker Mayfield work out in Carolina? No, he didn’t. The Panthers waived him in December after he had a historically bad run with the team. According to ESPN, Mayfield’s 18.2 Total QBR ranked 520th out of 521 qualified quarterbacks going back to the metric’s introduction in 2006. Yikes.
But was this a bad trade for the Panthers? No, it wasn’t.
Carolina only gave up a 2023 fifth round pick to see if they could reclaim the 2018 No. 1 overall pick and former Rookie of the Year who led the Browns to the playoffs in 2020 with an 11-5 record. The Panthers only had to pick up $4.85 million of his 2023 salary. Given Carolina’s dire need at quarterback, trading for Mayfield was the ultimate low-risk, high-reward proposition.
Just to set expectations as to the value of the fifth round pick the Panthers gave up, here are Carolina’s fifth round picks going back to 2016: DT Daviyon Nixon, CB Keith Taylor, S Kenny Robinson Jr, RB Jordan Scarlett, LB Jermaine Carter Jr, CB Corn Elder, and CB Zack Sanchez. Most of Carolina’s recent fifth rounders fall somewhere between roster cut casualty and low-end rotational player. It’s worth risking that asset for a potential starting quarterback.
This trade didn’t pan out in the end, which was disappointing but not altogether surprising. It was still worth the risk.
Trade grade: C-
Traded away Christian McCaffrey
Panthers received: ‘23 2nd Rd. (No. 61), ‘23 3rd Rd. (No. 93), ‘23 4th Rd. (No. 132), ‘24 5th Rd.
Panthers sent out: RB Christian McCaffrey
Let’s look at the big picture first: There was a very limited trade market for Christian McCaffrey, a high-salaried, injury prone running back. The general market consensus was no team was willing to give up a first round pick for CMC. It wouldn’t make sense for a rebuilding team to take on an expensive veteran, so Fitterer’s trade market essentially consisted of current contenders that needed a running back. The number of realistic trade partners Scott Fitterer was working with could have probably been counted on one hand.
In the end, the Panthers GM hammered out a deal with the San Francisco 49ers that worked for both teams. The four draft picks the Panthers got for CMC don’t come close to replacing his value but they do provide Carolina with much-needed draft capital. The No. 61 pick can realistically produce a starting-caliber player while the No. 93 pick gets Carolina back into the third round after trading away their 2023 third round pick last year.
The salary cap situation stemming from this trade helps the Panthers, but not until 2024. The net cap savings for Carolina in 2023 is just $1.1 million given his original $19.5 million cap number versus the $18.4 million dead cap hit the Panthers will incur next year. In 2024 the Panthers will save $19.5 million in cap space via this trade, which will help. McCaffrey’s $15.4 million cap hit in 2025 - the final year of his deal - is less impactful because if he had stayed in Carolina through then, his contract had limited dead money attached to it.
Given Christian McCaffrey’s position, his salary, his health history, and very limited trade market, Scott Fitterer did well to get this deal done.
Trade grade: B
Traded away Robbie Anderson
Panthers received: ‘24 6th Rd., ‘25 7th Rd.
Panthers sent out: WR Robbie Anderson
The bewildering wide receiver had worn out his welcome in Carolina and was vastly underperforming the two-year, $29.5 million contract extension he signed in 2021 with over $20 million guaranteed. That deal would have kept him in Carolina through 2023.
Anderson had become so toxic that during the Week 6 game against the Rams he got into multiple arguments with wide receivers coach Joe Daily and was ultimately sent to the locker room by interim head coach Steve Wilks. If Carolina couldn’t quickly find a trade partner for Anderson, they may have just released him. Getting anything for him was a win.
Just to further illustrate how damaged Anderson had become, in his 10 games with the Cardinals after the trade, he had just seven receptions for 76 yards.
In the end Scott Fitterer got two future late-round picks and saved about $2.3 million in 2023 cap space ($12 million original cap number versus a $9.7 million dead cap hit) for a player that was clearly on the chopping block. Those assets don’t ultimately amount to much in terms of changing the franchise’s fortunes, but it’s far better than just releasing an underperforming malcontent.
Trade grade: B+
Traded for Laviska Shenault
Panthers received: WR Laviska Shenault
Panthers sent out: ‘23 7th Rd., ‘24 6th Rd.
This was a sneaky good trade for the Panthers. Shenault was a second round pick in 2020 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his first two NFL seasons he put up 121 receptions for 1,219 yards before being traded to Carolina, so he clearly belongs in the NFL. That’s more than can be said for most sixth and seventh round picks, which is what Carolina gave up to get him.
In his first season with the Panthers Laviska had 27 receptions on 32 targets (84.4% catch percentage) for 272 yards and a touchdown. He also had nine rushes for 65 yards and another score. He showed his big-play potential with this 67-yard touchdown against the Saints and this 41-yard score against the Falcons.
Shenault didn’t start playing regular offensive snaps until Week 10. Over the Panther’s final eight games he had 207 scrimmage yards (148 receiving, 59 rushing), or about 26 yards per game. He got better as the year went on.
Laviska was outstanding on bubble screens and quick throws his direction. In a statistical oddity, his average depth per target was -0.7 yards, or behind the line of scrimmage, but Shenault averaged a team-high 12.2 yards after the catch. In other words, good things happened when the ball was in his hands. I’m optimistic Carolina’s new coaching staff can further develop Shenault and scheme him open more often next year. I wouldn’t be shocked if he had a 500-yard type season in 2023.
Shenault’s 2022 cap hit was just $1.3 million and his 2023 cap hit is only $1.7 million. I’d much rather have an actual player like Laviska Shenault than the theoretical sixth rounder in 2023 and seventh rounder in 2024 that Scott Fitterer gave up to get him.
Trade grade: B
Traded away Dennis Daley
Panthers received: ‘24 5th Rd.
Panthers sent out: ‘24 7th Rd., T Dennis Daley
Carolina selected Dennis Daley in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. To Daley’s credit, over his first three seasons with the Panthers he managed to start 21 of 34 games and played nearly 1,400 offensive snaps over that period. But while the quantity was there, the quality wasn’t. In 2021 his PFF grade of 51.9 ranked 72nd of 84 guards, meaning he wasn’t improving with time and opportunity. Daley was buried on the Panthers depth chart heading into 2022 and it wouldn’t have been surprising if the team simply released him.
But instead of waiving him or having him stand on the sidelines all season, Scott Fitterer ultimately traded Daley along with a 2024 seventh round pick to the Tennessee Titans. In return the Panthers received a 2024 fifth round pick, so they’ll move up two rounds in that year’s draft. Assuming both teams have mid-round picks that year, the Panthers could be moving up from about No. 242 to somewhere around No. 162, so maybe 80 spots, give or take. That’s actually pretty good.
While Daley went on to start at tackle in Tennessee this past year, his PFF grade of 46.1 ranked 78th of 81 for his position. Given his shaky performance and Carolina’s amazing health across the offensive line in 2022, Daley might have only played a few special teams snaps with the Panthers this past season, so Fitterer was smart to trade him.
Trade grade: B+
The overall summary
Kudos to Scott Fitterer for getting good value overall on the five trades he initiated in 2022. Most importantly, he didn’t part with any future Day 1 or Day 2 picks like he did the year before.
While Baker Mayfield didn’t work out, the experiment was worth a 2024 fifth round pick given the potential upside. The realistic market value for Christian McCaffrey was quarters on the dollar, and Fitterer got those quarters plus a dime and a nickel.
Fitterer performed some real football alchemy by turning Robbie Anderson and Dennis Daley into two late-round picks and improving a third pick by about 80 spots. Had the Panthers just waived Anderson and Daley the response from the Panthers fan base would have likely been a collective shoulder shrug.
Laviska Shenault made contributions and flashed some potential in the second half of the season which is more than can be said for most sixth and seventh round picks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his role and his impact increase in 2023.
Well done, Mr. Fitterer.
Overall player trade grade: B