The more things change, the more they stay the same. After the highest scoring regular season in NFL history, jam-packed with emerging, trail-blazing super athletes (see Patrick Mahomes and Saquon Barkley), it felt like there may be a changing of the guard in the hierarchy of a league designed to promote parity. Philosophies may have shifted on both sides of the ball, but one thing remains: the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady led New England Patriots’ anomalous (yet still expected) success in the face of anything thrown their way.
The biggest mistake another team in the National Football League can make at this moment in time is that of trying to replicate what New England is and has been for the past twenty years. It’s impossible to match the chameleonic tendencies involved in such a historic and successful run. Adapting their identity on the fly to match any given opponent has characterized the existence of this dynasty, which (with the NFL being set up the way it is) realistically should never have happened. Not for this extended of a time period at the very least.
The point here is that sustained success in a parity-driven league is extremely hard to come by. Which is why, in many cases, if a team has the cornerstones they feel they can compete with then it may be in their best interest to go “all in” (like the 2018 Los Angeles Rams). This leads us to the Carolina Panthers, a team with prime cornerstones on both sides of the football in quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Newton and Kuechly are in similar career situations. They are both in their primes, and they are both one hit away from arguably hanging it up. Newton has dealt with shoulder issues on his throwing side for the past three seasons while Kuechly has racked up concussions at a position where a collision is commonplace. The modern window for the Carolina Panthers to win a Super Bowl coincides with the presence of these two players, both with questions marks surrounding their durability. To maximize the potential of this window, the front office needs to consider pushing all of the chips to the middle of the table in 2019.
Enter All-World wide receiver Antonio Brown. As has been well-documented over the past few months, the (soon to be former) Pittsburgh Steelers superstar seems to be on the outs in the Steel City. Regardless of the internal discord or rumors of a straight-up attitude problem, Brown has the ability to immediately take an offense to new heights. Could the Panthers make a blockbuster trade that changes the course of franchise history?
Carolina Panthers Should Consider An Antonio Brown Trade
How This Trade Can Happen:
Trading a number one receiver in their prime is almost unprecedented in NFL history. There are, however, a few cases which we can point to that are somewhat similar:
Randy Moss, 2007
Oakland Raiders Receive: 2007 4th Round Pick (John Bowie)
New England Patriots Receive: Randy Moss
2006 OAK Moss: 42 receptions for 553 yards and three touchdowns
2007 NE Moss: 98 receptions 1493 yards and 23 touchdowns
NE Record 2006: 12-4
NE Record 2007: 16-0
OAK Record 2006: 2-14
OAK Record 2007: 4-12
Kelvin Benjamin, 2017
Carolina Panthers Receive: 2018 3rd (Rashaan Gaulden) and 7th round pick (Kendrick Norton)
Buffalo Bills Receive: Kelvin Benjamin
2017 CAR/BUF Benjamin: 48 receptions 692 yards and three touchdowns
2018 BUF Benjamin: 25 receptions 380 yards and one touchdown
CAR Record 2017 with Benjamin: 5-3
CAR Record 2017 without Benjamin: 6-2
BUF Record 2017 before Benjamin: 5-2
BUF Record 2017 after Benjamin: 4-5
Roy Williams, 2008
Dallas Cowboys Receive: Roy Williams and a 2009 7th round pick (Manuel Johnson)
2008 DET/DAL Williams: 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns
2009 DAL Williams: 38 receptions 596 yards and seven touchdowns
DET Record 2008 with Williams: 0-5
DET Record 2008 without Williams: 0-11
DAL Record 2008 without Williams: 4-1
DAL Record 2008 with Williams: 5-6
Amari Cooper, 2018
Oakland Raiders Receive: 2019 1st round pick (TBD)
Dallas Cowboys Receive: Amari Cooper
2018 OAK Cooper: 22 receptions for 280 yards and one touchdown
2018 DAL Cooper: 53 receptions 725 yards and 6 touchdowns
OAK Record with Cooper 2018: 1-5
OAK Record without Cooper 2018: 3-7
DAL Record 2018 without Cooper: 3-4
DAL Record 2018 with Cooper: 7-2
From the above notable wide receiver trades in the last twelve years, you can see that each trade demanded equitable draft capital as compensation. The outcomes are also extremely hit or miss when it comes to on-field results. Although Brown’s situation is unique in regards to his cap hit and off-the-field issues, I’d expect the Steelers to demand multiple draft picks for their star wide receiver. The Panthers currently sit with one pick in each of the first six rounds of the 2019 draft.
With numerous roster holes to fill, the Panthers may be wary to surrender substantial draft capital. Based on the precedent set above by comparable situations, I can’t see Brown (turning 31 in 2019) being worth more than a 2nd round pick and some change. If Carolina can fill one of their major position needs in free agency, they may be willing to part with their 47th overall pick.
After acquiring Brown, the Panthers would also need to restructure his contract by giving him an extension or absorbing his current contract with Pittsburgh. In 2019, Brown is set to make $22.17 million. If he were to be traded or cut this offseason, the Steelers would be carrying around $21.12 million in dead money over the next two seasons. Not ideal for Pittsburgh. With Carolina set to enter 2019 with close to $19 million in cap space, it would take some real cap magic by general manager Marty Hurney to make this work out.
Why the Panthers should make this move now:
If the stars do align and the Panthers are in the running to make a trade here, you’d have to think David Tepper would be able to leverage his relationship with Steelers ownership to give Carolina an advantage over other teams. Tepper had been a minority owner in Pittsburgh for nine years before buying the Panthers in 2018. The Rooney’s may have a soft spot for him, which could prove huge in potential negotiations.
Another notable development is the public friendship between Brown and Cam Newton. Newton spent a number of days in the 2018 offseason training with Brown, even posting a video on social media teasing their on-field connection.
As discussed earlier, the Panthers window to win a Super Bowl in the Newton-Kuechly era is closing, maybe even more quickly than once anticipated. Antonio Brown would immediately inject elite talent into the veins of this Carolina offense and propel them to the top of the league on paper. The biggest benefit of this move may be to the Panthers current wide receivers. A seasoned sophomore D.J. Moore would be able to move exclusively into the slot and tunnel his focus, where he could prove to be extremely effective given his skill set. Curtis Samuel could see a lot of room to work with on the outside as well, assuming Brown demands more attention in the secondary.
Why the Panthers shouldn’t make this move now:
The Panthers would be taking a huge risk trading for Brown and there are many angles you can approach this from.
First, the Panthers don’t have an immediate need at wide receiver like they do at defensive end, offensive tackle, and safety. In short, they’ve got bigger fish to fry and the luxury of Antonio Brown’s return on investment may not mask the currently gaping holes at other positions of need. Not to mention the uncertainty surrounding Cam Newton’s ability to throw a football in 2019.
Additionally, the Panthers may just not have the means to make this trade between their available draft capital and cap room. Antonio Brown is one of the best, if not THE best, wide receiver in the NFL. His services will not come cheap. The Panthers may just not be in a great position to even make a legitimate offer to the Steelers at this time.
Lastly, there is a reason Pittsburgh is looking to move Brown. The turmoil he has caused within the Steelers’ locker room may deter the Panthers from even considering the move. Carolina has upheld a reputation of having one of the best locker room atmospheres in the league under coach Ron Rivera. Would the addition of Brown disrupt the comradery of the team?
This isn’t a likely move but it’s more than interesting to consider. This offense would be quite fun to watch with a player of Brown’s caliber wreaking havoc on the outside. Cam Newton has never had a receiver near the talent level of AB. The Panthers will need to decide if risking the future for the present is a viable option as the window to win the Super Bowl with this core of players could shut much sooner than later.
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