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How the Carolina Panthers Can Move on from Christian McCaffrey

When the Panthers traded Christian McCaffrey, it was a clear signal that the franchise was ready to move in a different direction.

There’s no understating the hit a team takes when they trade a franchise cornerstone like Christian McCaffrey. But for both McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers, it was time to move on.

The Panthers traded the All-Pro running back to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, the latest domino to fall as they prepare for a rebuild. This came after they fired head coach Matt Rhule, then traded WR1 Robbie Anderson to the Cardinals. In return for McCaffrey, the 49ers sent the Panthers an abundance of picks.

The Panthers haven’t had much success despite McCaffrey’s dominance. They last made the playoffs in 2017 when they drafted him with the No. 8 pick. They also haven’t won a postseason game since Cam Newton was their QB in 2015.

Lost in the shuffle is how bad they’ve actually been since drafting McCaffrey. They’ve started five different QBs in that span for a 34-53 record (7th-worst in the NFL).

Boardroom takes a look at Carolina’s domino effect and what it means going forward.

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The Carolina Panthers’ Rebuild

This season, the Panthers have the third-lowest active cap ($126.4 million) and $10.6 million in cap space (2nd-most in the NFL). By trading Anderson and CMC, they’ve accumulated two second-round picks, a third-rounder, and two fourth-rounders entering the 2023 NFL Draft. That’s on top of potentially landing the No.1 overall pick with a 2-5 record.

Draft

The Panthers haven’t had the same starting QB on opening day in consecutive seasons since Newton in 2017 and 2018. Since then, they’ve shuffled between Kyle Allen ($1 million), Teddy Bridgewater ($63 million), Sam Darnold ($18 million), and Baker Mayfield ($4.9 million).

Eye on: QB CJ Stroud from Ohio State University or QB Bryce Young out of Alabama.

Run (Away) CMC

Outside of injuries, McCaffrey has been nothing short of spectacular. He not only possesses a major threat on the ground, but he’s been one of — if not the — most dominant pass-catching running back in all of football since he entered the league. Through six weeks, he has the second-most receptions by a RB this year (33), trailing only Austin Ekeler.

Take a look at where he ranks among other RBs since entering the league in 2017:

CategoryLeague Rank
Reception Yards: 3,2922nd
Reception Yards/Game: 51.41st
Reception TDs: 183rd
Total Receptions: 3902nd
Yards Per Catch: 8.46th
Rush Yards/Game: 62.211th
Rush TDs: 32T-10th
McCaffrey’s Contract & Salary

Years: 4
Total value: $64,063,500
Average annual value: $16,015,875 (first among RBs; 95th in the NFL overall)
Guaranteed at signing: $30,062,500
Total guaranteed money: $38,162,500
2022 cash salary: $690,000
Free agency: 2026 (potential out in 2023)

The Panthers’ Outlook

If you read this column in 2017, you’d probably be baffled. The Carolina Panthers were only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance at that point, with plenty of hope for the future. Now, despite their 2-5 record, they still rank ninth in the NFL for average attendance (71,208). They’ve finished in the top-10 for attendance every year since ESPN started tracking in 2001.

They may take a hit in this area. Fans have no other choice but to embrace a rebuild after they’ve been stuck in limbo for the past five seasons. Again, you simply cannot understate the value a player like McCaffrey brings to your organization — both on and off the field (revenue, marketing, etc).

But things finally came to a head, and it’s probably the best long-term approach for both sides.

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.