Start making your weekend plans for January, Panthers fans. Carolina won’t be heading to the postseason next month.
But with plenty of mystery and intrigue ahead of another busy offseason — which will begin in roughly five weeks — some fans still have questions about their favorite football team. That’s why The Observer has the Panthers mailbag.
Here are the three questions we chose to answer this week:
The history of regrettable NFL draft trades
Christoper asks: Has a team ever traded away what became a No. 1 in similar manner as the Panthers appear to have done? If so, who the pick, how did the trade turn out?
Mike Kaye: Nope, not in the modern era at least. And it should be noted, the Panthers still have five games to get a win or two to prevent Chicago from nabbing the 2024 first overall pick — as a result of the 2023 trade up to that very same selection.
That March trade up to the top pick landed Carolina rookie quarterback Bryce Young, who is having a frustrating season to say the least, as the Panthers have gone 1-11 in their first 12 games.
Trading future first-round picks hasn’t always been a typical approach, especially because most teams don’t make massive leaps up the board — like the Panthers did this offseason — without being established winners. In fact, it really only became somewhat trendy in the past 20 or so years, so the examples of major pitfall draft trades — at least from the standpoint of trading a higher pick than intended — are in turn, few and far between.
But we have found three interesting “losses” in recent draft history that compare to the Panthers’ gamble.
The previous mega-trade up to No. 1 — made between the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans — ended up being a sweet deal for the Titans, who dealt their No. 1 overall pick to the Rams.
Tennessee traded the first overall pick in 2016 — along with their fourth- and sixth-round selections from that year — to LA for the Rams’ 15th overall pick, two second-round selections and a third-round selection from that year’s draft. The Rams also sent first- and third-round selections in 2017 to the Titans. The 2017 first-round selection ended up being the fifth overall pick (wide receiver Corey Davis) in the draft after the Rams bombed in the final year of Jeff Fisher’s tenure. Jared Goff, the quarterback the Rams selected with the top pick, didn’t start a game until Week 11 and went 0-7 as a starter as a rookie.
The Robert Griffin III trade was also a pitfall in value for Washington. The then-St. Louis Rams traded the 2012 second overall pick to Washington for the sixth (first round) and 39th (second round) overall picks in that draft and first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.
Griffin had a phenomenal rookie season, as he won the AP NFL Rookie of the Year award and led Washington to the playoffs, which led to the 2013 pick being the 22nd overall selection. However, after Griffin suffered a catastrophic knee injury in his first playoff game, Washington faltered in 2013 and finished with the second-worst record in the league, giving St. Louis the No. 2 overall pick in 2014. The Rams used that selection to take offensive tackle Greg Robinson. It’s worth noting, with the Rams’ second first-round pick — their own selection — they took future All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The third example of a draft trade-up pitfall is the legendary Ricky Williams trade. The New Orleans Saints traded six draft picks — including the 12th overall pick — in 1999 and first- and third-round selections in 2020 for Washington’s fifth overall pick. The Saints ended up going 3-13 in Williams’ first year and ultimately surrendered the 2000 second overall pick to Washington, which the NFC East team used on future three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher LaVar Arrington. That deal, for the Saints, might be the most comparable value slide to the Young trade if the Panthers do end up finishing in last place in January.
Trading up for the No. 1 overall pick, only to give back the No. 1 overall pick the next year — along with DJ Moore and a pair of second-round picks — no matter how good Young is in his career, is a doomsday scenario in a lot of ways for Panthers fans, and rightfully so. Essentially getting a No. 1 overall pick on loan, only to struggle mightily, is an epic failure in asset value management, no matter how you spin it.
Santa Claus of Panthers’ locker room?
Ed asks: Which three Panthers players or coaches would you recommend to play Santa at the team’s holiday party?
That last question was probably super depressing for the reader, so let’s switch things up with Ed’s fun inquiry.
The first guy to come to mind is center Bradley Bozeman. He’s jolly and generous and just got named as Carolina’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which is given annually based on community service. Bozeman’s play this season has left a lot to be desired, but his work in the community, particularly with the “Bozeman Thanksgiving Bash,” makes him a shoe-in for a stand-in Santa this month.
The next option is defensive tackle Derrick Brown. While he’s not as jovial as St. Bradley, he does differentiate who is naughty or nice on the opposite side of the field. Brown is having a career season in Ejiro Evero’s defense, and while the numbers aren’t eye-opening, his ability to take down ball carriers has been prolific. Brown is a mountain of a man and he is happy to issue out some coal to opposing running backs on a weekly basis.
Let’s go with a coach for No. 3. Interim head coach Chris Tabor is a man of the people, as he routinely deals with 90% of the roster on a daily basis for special teams. He’s a bit thin for the prototypical St. Nick threads, but he makes up for that with energy, encouragement and humor. While he will never be known for gifting aggregating social media sites bulletin board-level quotes, he has been gracious when it comes to a chuckle or two in his press conferences.
Since the holiday spirit is being felt here, I’ll add three runners-up: Taylor Moton, JJ Jansen and Frankie Luvu. All three guys are super friendly and raise the mood of the room. Watching Jansen long-snap presents would also be a fun party game to witness.
Jon asks: This past week was week one without Frank Reich leading the charge and I feel like we saw a few new looks. The talent level obviously isn’t getting any better, but it did feel like some new things work. Thoughts on if we continue to see new wrinkles or has that ship sailed for any of big changes in scheme?
Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown certainly provided a different feel in Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Panthers were a balanced offense, with 34 run plays and 35 pass plays in the game. It felt like Brown leaned heavily on the run to set up the pass for the most part, and the offensive line benefited from that. Chuba Hubbard became the first Panthers running back to eclipse 100 rushing yards in a game this season. Hubbard was also only the second running back to surpass that landmark against the Buccaneers this year.
Brown leaned a bit heavier on pre-snap motion and under-center snaps than the offense had under Reich, who introduced those looks but rarely focused entire drives around them. The running game clearly benefited from more under-center calls, and Young looked comfortable executing those plays for the most part. It felt like Brown got Young more naturally on the move with play-action against the Buccaneers, too.
All that said, those “new” wrinkles were more so “new” plans. I think the offensive playbook is what it is, but Brown, Parks Frazier, James Campen and Jim Caldwell are likely simplifying the selection to choose plays that make the offense more fluid. I think that will continue to happen over the next five games.
As with the plan against Tampa Bay, I expect the offensive line — particularly at the guard spots — to continue to evolve to find better fits. Rookie wideout Jonathan Mingo is likely to be targeted a lot more, as he was against the Buccaneers. I also think it’s safe to say that Hubbard will continue to anchor the offense opposite Young. Again, this staff isn’t in a position to retool an entire playbook, but they can heighten the stuff that makes the offense more electric.
While I think the offense is the offense and the talent is the talent, I do think the steps the staff took last week at least opened the door for improvement. The offense wasn’t completely static, and that’s a good thing.