(Editor's note: With the 2021 NFL Draft coming up next week, we're taking a daily look at the different paths the Panthers could choose with the eighth overall pick. Think of this as an argument for a particular position, rather than a prediction.)
CHARLOTTE — For all the Panthers' options with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the best way to improve the team might be to let someone else use the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Depending on the way the board falls, and their own preferences about players, the Panthers could have the opportunity to trade down next week to stockpile more picks for the future.
In a setting where the team isn't necessarily set up to push for a Super Bowl this year, that could be the prudent plan, if not the sexiest one.
And depending on the offer, and how far they'd have to go, they could still check off a lot of boxes for 2021.
Of course, trading down also means adding a lesser grade of player, but that could be a risk they're willing to take in a year that's deeper in positions they need to address (tackle, cornerback, and wide receiver, specifically).
There's also the inconvenient matter of finding someone wanting to move up, and that will depend on the seven teams ahead of them. When angling for a trade partner, quarterbacks are the surest bait.
With Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson expected to go first and second overall, they'll find out quickly whether there's going to be a run.
The 49ers are expected to take another quarterback third (after giving up a haul to get there), making the Falcons' fourth pick valuable to others if they don't want to use it.
Of course, that could position the Falcons to take the top non-quarterback in the draft (tight end Kyle Pitts), or the top tackle available (Penei Sewell). Or the Falcons might decide to take their own quarterback of the future to groom under Matt Ryan. Either way, that choice will impact Carolina's, since the next three picks are held by teams without an immediate need at quarterback (Bengals, Dolphins and Lions).
If the fourth or fifth quarterback is available at eight — and importantly, if the Panthers don't want him for themselves — that's when they could cash in.
The 49ers gave up two future first-rounders and a third to the Dolphins to move from 12th to third this year.
The Dolphins then gave up one of next year's first-rounders to the Eagles to move up from 12 to six, ostensibly so they could land one of the top skill-position players (either Pitts or one of the top wide receivers).
So if someone picking behind the Panthers wants to move up, it's not unrealistic that they could add a future first-round pick in a deal.
Having more picks might be good, but having more high picks is better, and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule might have learned something about that during a recent vacation.
While with his family in Florida, Rhule and his son ducked out for a fishing trip with former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. He's the guy who famously parlayed Herschel Walker into a pile of picks (three firsts, three seconds, a third, and a sixth) which he used to build a team that would win three Super Bowls (hence the very nice boat named Three Rings in the background of the picture).
The Panthers don't necessarily have a Herschel Walker to trade, but the larger point stands.
At the moment, the Panthers have seven total picks this year, and five in 2022. They got two extra compensatory sixth-rounders this year, but sent one of them to the Jets as part of the Sam Darnold trade. This year's seventh was traded to the Bills in September 2018 for veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse, when the Panthers needed line depth because of injuries.
Next year's second- and fourth-rounders belong to the Jets as well, to complete the Darnold deal. They're also not in line for compensatory picks in 2022, having signed more unrestricted free agents than they've lost.
General manager Scott Fitterer's background comes into play here as well, as the Seahawks were one of the league's most active teams, trading down all the time to stack picks.
At some point, the Panthers still need players, so there's only so far they'll want to fall in the order to get guys they need.
If someone in the range of teams from Denver (picking ninth) to New England (15th) were to call with an offer, the Panthers could still ostensibly draft a needed cornerback or tackle in the first round, while adding stock for later.
It's hard to part ways with a top-10 pick, because of the opportunity to add players who can make immediate impacts. And if the Panthers were closer to contending for a Super Bowl, it would be hard to bypass that chance.
At the moment, they're still building.
So the best plan might be to find the right bait, drop a hook in the water, and wait.