Post-UFA signings and pre-draft days make for a long, roughly six-week wait, and every possible scenario gets discussed ad nauseum to the point where we fans just want the dadgum draft to happen already!
It was during these past couple of days that I've come up with a somewhat insane, somewhat not, trade scenario....trading Kawann Short to the San Francsico 49'ers, in part, for their #2 overall pick and apparently dibs on drafting LSU running back Leonard Fournette. It is now widely-known that Tom Coghlin, coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a two-time Super Bowl winning Head Coach, covets Fournette in a big way.
First, the Reasons why Kawann Short Could be Traded
There are a number of reasons Kawann Short might be in the mix for a trade to the Niners. We've all heard the persistent rumors that the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49'ers are in "trade talks" for the 9'ers' number two overall pick in the 2017 draft.
First, and most obviously, is that he likely has the best trade value of any player Panthers GM Dave Gettleman might (I stress the word "might") consider trading to the Niners.
Why is this?
Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are the keys on offense and defense, respectively, and trading either one would completely destroy the team's identity on their respective sides of the football. Kawann has been slapped with the Franchise tag for 2017 by the team, meaning he'll be paid on a one-year contract the average of what the top-five defensive tackles make. While he's not hurting for money this season, players despise being "franchised" for reasons I won't get into here.
The fact is that Gettleman and Short's agent tried and failed to come to terms on a long-term contract this past year and we fans simply do not know how far apart the two sides are in coming to an agreement. The other part is something I noted since day-one: Vernon Butler being drafted tops last year wasn't any mistake -- I said from the get-go that his being drafted should send a signal to Short's camp: DG was drafting leverage to use in contract talks with Kawann to help keep a lid on his asking price.
It's also quite likely that Butler was the "BPA" (Best Player Available) in that draft when we chose him as his draft grade was indeed much higher than those taken the handful of picks before him. The pick fit in the talent area if not the "need" area since Kawann was still under his rookie CBA deal.
However, Butler's impact was minimal last season as he played on an injured ankle almost the entire season, but what he did do while healthy was to show flashes of his potential. Long-armed with little body fat, Butler is a very athletic 300 pound man.
Gettleman's thoughts could be that, as much as he loves his "hog mollies," he has one that isn't being used in Butler. Short has more trade value than does Butler in the first place, and if the two sides are still further apart than we realize, Short could be on the trading block...at least, privately.
Why not Trade Only Draft Picks?
Again, several reasons...namely, #40, #64, and #98. Those, along with the organic #8 pick the Panthers "earned" on the field last season by sucking at 6-10, would be the starting point for any trade talks for the Panthers to go up from eighth overall to second overall.
Just look at these same Cleveland Browns that have all these picks. How did they get them?
Well, aside from outright purchasing the Texans' second-rounder this season for $16 million dollars, look at what the Philadelphia Eagles had to pay up just last season to go from #8 to #2 when they drafted Carson Wentz:
The meat of it says "The Browns will receive Philadelphia's No. 8 overall pick, a third- and fourth-round selection in this draft, next year's first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2018. The Eagles also got a conditional fifth-round pick (a compensatory fourth-rounder, if available) from the Browns next season."
Their trade will be paid for over three seasons. I don't think Gettleman wants to hamstring his team quite that much, depending on how negotiations look with Short.
So, the Eagles paid with their #8 overall, 3rd & 4th rounder that season, their first-rounder in 2017 (this year's #12 overall that Cleveland has), and their second-rounder next season, in 2018. The Eagles got a middle-round pick from Cleveland this year in return as well.
That's some serious draft capital, folks. The Carolina Panthers and Dave Gettleman seem to like youth as much as the next GM, in part, because rookies are cheap. That's the flip side of giving up so much in draft capital -- you're giving up the equivalent of "cheap labor" for four years, not to mention the loss of so many talented young guys that could be the next draft-day gem like a Josh Norman turned out to be.
How much would Trading Short Lower the Asking Price?
That much is uncertain. However, I'd argue that Short is worth a first-round pick and a number eight overall could be his current equivalent. If the Panthers were to offer both Short and their number eight overall pick, the bounty in later draft picks would be reduced substantially, say, our #40 overall this year and a second-rounder in 2018 would seem to be enough on the surface, so we'd be "saving" a first-round pick (albeit a delayed one) and a 4th-rounder. That's not a bad return on the investment in absolute terms....but Short's a special player.
In contrast, Butler could be in a trade offer, but the price in draft picks would rise somewhat and we'd still have to come to terms on a deal with Short, and Short would then be holding all the cards for a higher-end contract.
What Other Contracts Loom?
The entire issues is confounded by the fact that, after this season, both the Panthers' starting guards of Andy Norwell and Trai Turner will be seeking new deals, and at current market rates, each one should command in the $10-$12 million range each year. While I think we keep Turner, I'm not so sure we keep Norwell. The Panthers have as good a guard duo as almost any team in the NFL, and want to be remunerated for it. I get that.
The non-sexy half of being a General Manager is having to make those tough decisions to keep a lid on the salary cap. Paying two guards top dollar takes away a lot of buying power for other positions, so I also am thinking the Panthers will take an Ethan Pocic or other highly-rated interior OL in the middle rounds, say the 4th or the 5th. It's DG's "way." Such a draft pick would serve several purposes:
First, Pocic for instance, is a tall (6'6") lineman and Cam needs a big pocket for his tall, long-armed frame. I've seen several throws he has made where he has hit his hand on a blocking lineman's helmet, and "taller" linemen with longer arms would help keep pressure away from Cam in the pressuring in the middle of the pocket. That's a plus.
Secondly, a guy like Pocic can play center or guard and should immediately be the top guy off the bench in case of an injury, and not have all that much drop-off in play, if the right guy is chosen.
Thirdly, Ron Rivera could "groom" the guy into taking over for Ryan Kalil, who just turned 32 years old. He could still have a number of years left, but having Pocic handy would be a nice back-up. He'd also be able to start at guard if/when Norwell/Turner isn't re-signed, so there will be a place for a top-notch interior lineman in the current draft.
I'm only bringing this part up to illustrate the stress on the salary cap. Gettleman has made motions towards keeping room for Kawann Short, but I'm not so sure about BOTH Norwell and Turner. Short's absence (or, rather, the absence of his looming contract) would make that particular choice much, much easier.
Is it Worth the Cost to Trade up in the End?
I wouldn't be pointing all this out if I felt like it isn't. No, I'm not "anti-Kawann" at all; I simply have come to believe that Short is asking a bit much more than what Gettleman wants to or is prepared to pay. We have seen this same song and dance before, when we had Greg Hardy and drafted Kony Ealy....leverage.
However, that situation unwound much differently than most expected as Hardy showed how immature he really is, wound up in Dallas as a result, and is now out of the NFL. We all know Ealy's stubborn nature made him unwanted in Charlotte, so DG got rid of him in order to move up eight whole slots....in the bottom of the second round. Oh well, at least we know he learned something from last year's Josh Norman debacle. The team got only a 3rd round compensatory selection in the draft for letting the All-Pro (and his salary) walk to Washington.
I think Vernon Butler is the key. If he's the player Gettleman thought he was getting when he was drafted, it would seem to make Kawann Short (again....and his looming salary) an expendable commodity.
But what is the End-Game?
If there's one thing that most fans have come to see so far in the Dave Gettleman era, it's the fact that he has failed in two areas. One is getting a dominant defensive end through the draft. He simply hasn't done it yet and ALL of our defensive ends that have shown ANY ability to rush the passer are 30 years of age or older. Yep, even Mario Addison. Wes Horton is only 27, but is expendable as well and could/might be part of an exchange with the Niners, but a minor part. No, not Kyle Love -- he has zero trade value with his age -- and likely not Butler because while he has shown flashes of potential in limited action, he hasn't done so on a sustained basis, having been a rookie last season with an injured ankle and therefore limited game tape on him. There's an outside chance the Niners would go for Butler in a deal, but again, he'd have significantly less trade value than the proven Kawann Short would have.
The obvious target (to me) for Carolina at #2 is NOT Solomon Thomas, but Leonard Fournette. The other place Gettleman hasn't fixed is the fact that the front office has failed Cam Newton in large part by not getting any star players to go around him, save for Greg Olsen, who is also 32 now and came to the Panthers in 2011. I know because I'll always be exactly 18 years older than Olsen, as we have the same birthday (March 11th) in common.
Gettleman has served the defense well overall, but it's now or never for some help for Cam. He's not getting younger, and although he's not old for a football player yet, the injuries are mounting as he's currently recovering from a partially-torn rotator cuff injury. I think the play involved is an all-too-cute snapshot of what is wrong with the offense. It's the play where Cam threw a pick-six returned about a hundred yards for a TD, where Kelvin Benjamin barely tried to get the intercepting defender down before turning to whine to the officials ON A LIVE BALL. It's the play where Cam actually tried his best to run the guy down, and frankly, DID run him down, but was out-maneuvered at the ten yard line where Cam hit the turf hard -- on his throwing shoulder.
...all because Kelvin Benjamin didn't finish the play. Wow.
No, I'm a lot more down on Benjamin than most fans are. Most give him a pass last year because he was "recovering from an injury." That doesn't explain why he couldn't sit down on a defender holding the ball on a live play. It tells me volumes about his head and his heart, and it's not good.
Going up the board to #2 overall would land us either Leonard Fournette (likely) or Myles Garrett (highly unlikely). Either one should be an NFL star, and sooner rather than later. Garrett wouldn't help Cam on offense, obviously, but I think any deal would be draft-day dependent upon Fournette's availability, so we won't know until we literally know on draft day when Komissar Goodell reads Cleveland's initial draft card. Myles Garrett would make the defensive line insanely stacked, and Gettleman will need to leave a draft spot for either "Obiwan" (the SS from UConn, Obi Melifonwu) or perhaps Florida safety Marcus Maye at #40 overall.
Fournette, however, would literally be a game-changer. He would likely take over the starting role from Jonathan Stewart on sheer talent sooner rather than later, and give us not a "thunder & lightning" backfield duo like when DeAngelo Williams was at the top of his game, but a "Hammer & Sledgehammer" backfield duo with Fournette being the Sledgehammer.
Fournette would also instantaneously transform the Carolina offense into the power-running leviathan Gettleman has been trying to build since he arrived, and Rivera hasn't been able to sustain since he arrived the previous season.
Furthermore, getting Fournette would be an exclamatory statement after years of drafting running backs in the latter rounds and not having much to show for it. Kenyon Barner didn't work out, Tyler Gaffney was snatched by the Deflatriots on the way to our practice squad, and Cameron Artis-Payne has done very little in his time with the team. Investing heavily in the running back position is long overdue, although I didn't quite envision such a big investment in years past. Then again, there hasn't been a runner so talented in the draft since well before Cam Newton even entered the NFL. Sure, Zeke Elliott produced quite well last season, but he ran behind the NFL's top offensive line and was a more "polished" running back than Fournette to begin with.
Fournette is a star waiting to happen for someone. Injury concerns always enter the equation, but such is the nature of the NFL and those questions will follow anyone to some degree until they prove it on the NFL level. Fournette's ankle is troublesome, and it might even require surgery at some point, but such happens to most NFL players at some point and the other runners all have issues of their own, perhaps other than Stanford's Christian McCaffrey. However, I do not see a scatback being a dominant player like Fournette should be.
Fournette's presence would also help to smooth-over many other team deficiencies because when you get down to it, NFL defenders will still have to repeatedly tackle a young, immensely strong AND agile, powerful AND fast "kid" on the gridiron. Fournette has repeatedly shown the ability to completely blow out defenders (read: run the F OVER) and maintain his balance to keep going.
He has also shown, on the SEC level, a ton of long runs that SEC DBs do not catch him on. In fact, he was measured at 22.9 MPH on a scoring run last season...a speed that NO NFL PLAYER HAS REACHED ON ANY SCORING PLAY IN THE LAST TWO SEASONS!
He also is a natural hands-catcher and can track the ball in the air on deeper throws. The guy has skills upon skills, and anybody who doesn't think he's the top running back entering this draft ought to have their heads examined.
"Not a shotgun runner?" I think that's the silliest thing I've ever heard. If you have to reach THAT far to look for a downside in a guy, the guy is REALLY good. LSU's offensive line was horrible except for Ethan Pocic AND the QB was a horrible passer.
Otherwise, Fournette had plenty of help around him.
See the Alabama game when he had only 31 yards on 19 carries. The offense was completely out-manned almost everywhere and it showed that, in order to stop Fournette, you have to get to him early and often -- gang-tackling him before he can even get started. Once he gets started, he's trouble for defenders.
Yeah, I think that would help Cam out. Since the team is in "win-now" mode, I say it's time to go all-in, put the chips down on your guy, and let's see what the cards say.
Speaking of Cards, is there an Ace in the Hole?
Another factor most people don't think about is that San Francisco's new General Manager is John Lynch, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers long-term star strong safety. Green as a GM, he's experienced in knowing good defensive players. Do you remember who the best defensive player was on that dominant defense during their Super Bowl run?
....a fat guy named Warren Sapp, who just so happens to have played the same defensive tackle position that Short plays. Short will have as much trade value with a guy like John Lynch as he would with any GM in the game, most likely. Lynch himself could be Gettleman's unlikely "Ace in the hole" on the way to winning the lotto to obtain the second overall pick from the Niners. It would seem only to be a matter of desire on Dave Gettleman's part if he wants to swap out one of the game's premier interior pass defenders for one of the game's likely-dominant power runners over the past 30 or so years. Gettleman's strong suit would be that Short has proven it while Fournette hasn't yet on the NFL stage, and that could well be the factor that makes Lynch choose to do a deal with the Panthers, if such a deal is even on the table.
That's the set-up, gang. We only have two weeks to wait and watch to see what unfolds.
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