Christian McCaffrey A commercial candidate?

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The Panthers start slow and Mayfield Baker ranks last (by a considerable margin) in QBR coming out of Week 4. Rumors of Matt RhuleThe Carolina outlet continues to swirl.

Christian McCaffreyThe name is now coming up in trade rumors. The former All-Pro running back should be watched ahead of the trade deadline, according to various NFL executives (via Jason La Canfora of The Washington Post). McCaffrey remains committed to the four-year, $64 million extension he signed in 2020. Nearly 2½ years after it was finalized, McCaffrey’s deal still tops the running back market.

Although McCaffrey’s AAV leads the pack in this position, the Panthers restructured his contract in March. As a result, CMC’s base salary for 2022 is only $1 million. An acquisition team would be responsible for this figure, as well as the remaining three years of this contract. Those would turn into unsecured years for an acquisition team, though the deal includes high future base salaries of $11.8 million (2023 and 24) and $12 million (2025). The Panthers would take dead money this year and next.

Potentially looking to add interim capital for their post-Rhule run, the Panthers might be willing to take some of McCaffrey’s money. Two general managers have informed La Canfora that the Panthers would likely be willing to accept a salary to move McCaffrey “and others” to store future assets. It would be interesting if the Panthers ate part of McCaffrey’s salary in 2023 to move him. As of now, the Panthers would be hit with $7.6 million in dead money by trading McCaffrey before the Nov. 1 deadline.

Carolina being willing to recoup some of CMC’s future salary would make him a more valuable commodity, and teams have already brought in the sixth-year. Rhule called McCaffrey to inform him that he was not with the Panthers. Deshaun Watson trade negotiations before last year’s deadline, but the team listened to CMC’s business interest this year. The Panthers wanted a first-round pick and cap-friendly player for McCaffrey in March; that would be a tough question given the ex-Stanford superstar’s injury history. But if the Panthers continue to struggle, McCaffrey’s name may continue to circulate.

Rhule authorized the record payment to McCaffrey, a Dave Gettleman-era conscript. Owner David Tipper was not in place when the Panthers selected McCaffrey eighth overall, but he obviously gave the go-ahead for overtime. McCaffrey, 26, battled numerous injury issues in the years since. After multiple illnesses led to the second-generation NFLer playing in just 10 games between the 2020 and 21 seasons, however, he has played in each of Carolina’s four contests this year. McCaffrey has had two 100-yard games so far this season, and after missing practices with a quadriceps injury last week, the dual-threat defenseman caught nine passes for 81 yards and a touchdown during the loss to Carolina in Week 4.

david johnson was part of a trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, but the return runs usually don’t produce much. The only other guard to be traded even for a third-round pick in the past eight years has been Duke Johnsonwho salvaged a third-round move from the Browns to the Texans in 2019. Dolphins mid-season deals return Jay Ajayi and Kenyan drake respectively produced a fourth and fifth round clearing. Again, backs of McCaffrey’s caliber are not readily available. While a first-round pick along the lines of the price the Colts paid the Browns for Trent Richardson in the 2013 season would be hard to imagine, McCaffrey would still attract considerable interest – if he can stay healthy.

Of course, Rhule fighting to keep his job would apparently put CMC’s trade talks on hold. It would be quite odd for the Panthers to treat one of their best players with their coach perhaps in the hottest seat in the NFL. Again, La Canfora adds that some within the organization smell like a chicken match between Rhule and Tepper.

Rhule signed a monster contract in 2020 (seven years, $62 million), which will leave Tepper on the hook for a rare sum if he fires his third-year HC. Rhule, 47, will also be a contender for top college vacancies given his success in Temple and Baylor turnovers. Rhule being removed before the trade deadline would make a McCaffrey trade more logical. Heading into Week 5 — against a No. 1-ranked 49ers defense — the Panthers’ Rhule-Mayfield-McCaffrey setup remains intact.

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