Carolina Panthers: Making Sense of Wednesday

Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi /

The Carolina Panthers are sticking to their guns unlike teams like the Rams and the Eagles.

The past two days have been an exploration of the Carolina Panthers’ decision to cut ties with Josh Norman. There have been pieces written to explain why it is a mistake, and there have been pieces written to explain why it was right thing to do.

The one thing that it did do was muffle criticism and analysis of the story that would have been the biggest story of the day, the trade by the Philadelphia Eagles to get up to the second pick in the draft. The lessons of that story are much the same as lessons that the Rams should have learned when they traded for the first pick of the draft.

These kinds of trades are something franchises should avoid. They put too much importance in one player who ultimately may not pan out anyway. The team that gets the boatload of picks usually does better a la the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. The Rams won the Robert Griffin trade when the Redskins moved up to secure the Baylor quarterback.

The Panthers seem to be in a different universe where relative cost versus relative value is important. That fits more in line with teams like the Titans and the Browns who saw good deals where they could get them and happily traded down. The Panthers made a similar move in 1995 when they moved from the first pick to the fifth pick and still got Kerry Collins. The same logic helps explain the Norman decision.

The point is that the league is moving toward a model like the NBA’s. The rookie cap puts value on draftees because they are relatively cheap and relatively plentiful. If you avoid using these nice features of the draft to build your team, you have to go find free agents. Free agents are by comparison expensive and can be overvalued depending on the market for a given position in a given year.

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A draft trade that sacrifices multiple picks for a single player is counterproductive with team building in the NFL. You trade away the years when talent is at its cheapest to secure one player. Even if you succeed and Carson Wentz sets the world on fire, how do you support him? The free agent market, where you run the risk of killing your cap flexibility and stagnating your franchise.

So the Gettleman Panther model is building through the draft and supplementing with veteran players at bargain cost. There are positions that you prioritize in this, like quarterback and defensive tackle, and positions that you don’t like cornerback and safety. This is smart managing, and paying Josh Norman $15 million a year is not part of it.

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Consider where the Panthers were when Gettleman arrived, Marty Hurney had signed a number of players to big extensions in the late 2000s. DeAngelo Williams, Ryan Kalil, Jonathan Stewart, and especially Charles Johnson got enormous deals in this time. Yet the Panthers sacrificed draft flexibility through trades for Everette Brown and Armanti Edwards which weakened their talent pool overall. The Panthers ended up cap room trouble, and eventually made the change.

Next: Team Mock Draft 1

Big draft trades are chasing rainbows when the whole system is built on how you use draft picks. Teams are rarely one player away from the Super Bowl and these trades must generally be avoided. Smaller trades can work (Devin Funchess), but at the cost of lower value picks not future number ones.