When the Panthers announced the firing of Matt Rhule last Monday, it did more than trigger immediate reaction about who the next head coach of the Panthers would be. It also served as a bat signal for any trade-happy teams.
Who was suddenly available?
While the Panthers did receive many calls, sources say the team won’t hold a fire sale. With a talented roster that still needs a quarterback for the future, Carolina won’t be dumping its talented players for several reasons — with one being it would like to attract a top-notch coach with its talent.
Star running back Christian McCaffrey is receiving the most significant interest from teams, sources say. And while Carolina isn’t shopping McCaffrey — far from it — the team would listen, as general manager Scott Fitterer has promised would be the case for every deal.
Only an overwhelming return would cause the Panthers to deal one of the faces of their franchise, sources say. Opposing teams wonder if a trade really would get done, but at least there will be talks. Teams are expected to try to trade for McCaffrey.
Under this backdrop, Steve Wilks will coach his first game as interim head coach. Wilks fired defensive coordinator Phil Snow on Monday, installed assistant Al Holcomb to call plays as interim DC and put his stamp on the team. Wilks will get a realistic chance to win the job, assuming the performance of the team turns around. That will be the focus for the next few months, while the organization does additional research on other candidates for the open position.
A few years ago, McCaffrey was the recipient of a four-year, $64 million extension that made him the highest-paid running back in football (he still is) while also tying him to the Panthers through 2025 (when combined with his fifth-year option).
This year’s base salary is just $1.035 million because it was restructured in the offseason for salary-cap reasons. He still earned the nearly $9 million due to him but helped the team create $5.52 million in cap space. If he’s traded, the Panthers will save $1.2 million in cap space next season.
Contractually, McCaffrey’s deal is tradable.
If such a trade happened, the new team would inherit three years and $36 million through 2025 with $1 million of his 2023 base guaranteed — all before he turns 30.
McCaffrey played just 10 games over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, battling a variety of injuries. But he is back to his old self this year, averaging 4.5 yards per rush and contributing in the pass game.
McCaffrey won’t be the only player drawing trade interest.
Wide receiver Robbie Anderson, whose name was in trade rumors this past offseason, is also receiving interest and could be traded in the right opportunity, sources say. He has 13 catches for 206 yards and a base salary of just $1.035 million because his contract was restructured.
Wide receiver D.J. Moore, pass rusher Brian Burns and defensive tackle Derrick Brown are among the other players teams are calling about, but it’s highly unlikely any of those players would be traded. They are considered building blocks for the future, the kind of players who would draw a new coach. Same with the rebuilt and effective offensive line.
In fact, rival GMs have praised the overall talent on Carolina, minus the issues at quarterback that now have them starting P.J. Walker on Sunday versus the Los Angeles Rams. Sunday, with plenty of questions for the future, Wilks leads them out onto the field to try to make the best out of a difficult situation.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter.