The Carolina Panthers agreed to trade Trai Turner to the Los Angeles Chargers on Wednesday night in exchange for Russell Okung.
For Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers, the roster turnover only continued Wednesday night. The Panthers agreed to send guard Trai Turner to the Chargers in exchange for tackle Russell Okung in a deal that is as straight-up as you will see in today’s NFL. Turner had been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past five years, and at only 26 years old, is in the middle of his prime. Okung, whom the Panthers got in exchange, has had a solid NFL career since being taken sixth overall in the 2010 draft; however, he will be 33 by the end of the upcoming campaign, and is coming off of a season in which he played only six games due to blood clots and a late-season groin injury. The trade won’t become official until the new league year begins on March 18th, but it was a curious move to say the least. With that being said, here are a few reasons why the move may have went down.
Despite being one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the league, Okung’s contract will be up at the end of this season.
Okung is due just over $13 million in 2019, and despite the fact that he’ll be one of the highest-paid tackles in football, it may actually save the team some money this season. In the off-chance that Carolina were to release the 32-year-old, they would save the entire $13 million in cap space. If they choose to keep him on the roster for this season, which is presumably what they will do, then his contract expires at the end of the year, and both he and Turner will be off the Panthers’ books in 2021. Considering that Turner was set to count $20 million towards the cap over the next two seasons, the trade is actually a bit of a salary dump in the long run.
It’s also worth mentioning that Turner was reportedly seeking a lucrative long-term extension, something that the new regime may not have been comfortable with, and very likely could have played a role in Carolina’s decision to ship him away. From a financial standpoint, the trade is something that is seen more regularly in basketball. In the NBA, it’s not uncommon for “bad” teams to take in under-performing contracts that are set to expire. It’s especially common with teams that are undergoing rebuilds, which most expect the Panthers to at least partially do. The trade will increase Carolina’s league-high dead cap this season while also decreasing available cap room, but will ultimately give the team more flexibility to sign free agents next spring.
With the Panthers in the market for a reliable left tackle, Okung will fill that hole in 2020 and also serve as a mentor for younger players.
Ever since Jordan Gross retired following the 2013 season, left tackle has been a revolving door of sorts for Carolina. Players such as Byron Bell, Chris Clark, and Matt Kalil have been stop-gaps at the position; however, none of those have been more than temporary “band-aids.” They even gave Daryl Williams a shot last season. Okung may be nothing more than a band-aid himself, but he could be much more than that for the younger players. Greg Little and Dennis Daley both spent time protecting the quarterback’s blindside in their rookie years in 2019, and both showed promise at times. There have been rumors that the Panthers could try Little at guard this season, and Daley–a sixth-round pick–surprisingly played really well during most of his action last year. With that being said, it could benefit Daley tremendously to sit behind Okung for a year.
Okung has always been a good player when on the field, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, it’s likely that that trend will continue this season. At the very least he’ll be better than the players the Panthers have put at the position in the past few years. Assuming he is only in Carolina for 2020, though, his biggest impact could be with Daley. The South Carolina product was impressive as a rookie, but perhaps isn’t ready to be a full-time starter in the NFL. As a result, learning behind Okung this season could help him make that transition later on. If the Panthers decide take another tackle in this year’s draft, then the same can be said for that player as well. Considering his age and expiring contract, it’s unlikely that Okung will be with Carolina for very long; however, that doesn’t mean his impact won’t be felt for years to come.