Trading Christian McCaffrey opens up new future options for the Carolina Panthers, but George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now”

from Darin Gantt with
CHARLOTTE — Trading Christian McCaffrey might not help the Panthers today, but this move wasn’t about today.

This move was about a time when it could matter even more.

Sending their star running back to San Francisco late Thursday night (the deal is still pending a physical today) in exchange for a reported four draft picks was about building for the future, since it gives them more options heading into an offseason when they need more.

Of course, the goal continues to be finding a long-term answer at quarterback, but these picks from the 49ers aren’t the ones that are necessarily going to translate directly into that player.

But having more picks gives them more chances to take players, trade, move around, or add more help. Moving McCaffrey and adding a reported three additional picks in next spring’s draft and another in 2024 gives them possibilities they didn’t necessarily have earlier this week.

The Panthers had just four picks in 2023 and five in 2024 when they got on the plane home from Los Angeles Sunday night. They picked up a 2024 sixth-rounder and a 2025 seventh in Monday’s deal that sent wide receiver Robbie Anderson to Arizona. The reported haul from the 49ers includes a 2023 second, third, and fourth, along with a 2024 fifth-rounder (and if you go by the numbers on any draft value chart, that’s the equivalent of a late first).

Now, the Panthers have seven picks in 2023 (all in the first five rounds), seven in 2024, and eight in 2025.

And the more inventory you have, the more alternatives exist for you.

So now they have more chances to acquire more pieces to add to their young core on defense and some other existing assets.

At the moment, it creates some questions about how an already struggling offense will move forward, since McCaffrey was fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage, and the Panthers were 32nd in the league in total offense.

With short-term uncertainty at quarterback, they will be starting PJ Walker again this week, as Baker Mayfield nurses an ankle injury and Sam Darnold practiced for the first time in seven weeks after dealing with his own ankle injury. But the longer-term questions at the position are more pressing, because none of those three are under contract for 2023.

Rookie Matt Corral, who is out for the year with a foot injury, is the only quarterback on the roster who is under contract for next year.

That’s certainly going to change, and Thursday’s deal with the 49ers only makes it more possible for them to be able to make the moves they need to make.

Quarterback is obviously one of them.

So while they were likely already thinking about players at the top of this year’s draft class, it’s too soon to know whether Bryce Young or CJ Stroud or Will Levis or Hendon Hooker or whoever will be anyone’s answer. Those guys are still playing, and the real evaluating is only beginning.

And because they’ve looked into options every year that people didn’t realize were options at the time, it’s too soon to lock in on any one means of acquiring a quarterback.

But now we know they have more picks.

And with those added picks, they can continue to add to a young base of talent that includes several high-end defensive stars like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Jaycee Horn, one of the game’s steadiest receivers in DJ Moore, and a ready-made offensive line which has all five current starters under contract for next year.

So, no, dealing McCaffrey didn’t make the Panthers any better at the moment.

But it gives the Panthers more options for the future, and until you find a long-term solution at quarterback, options are the best thing to have.