With deadline passed, a look at next steps for the Panthers

BUNS-MOORE

CHARLOTTE — The trade deadline came and went Tuesday, and as Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer promised weeks ago, there was no fire sale.

And with the smoke cleared (and there was plenty of smoke), the Panthers can walk on the practice field Wednesday and get a picture of what they have left this season — but most importantly, what's in place for next season and beyond.

By not dealing players such as defensive end Brian Burns or wide receiver DJ Moore or any of the rest of the often-discussed players at the deadline, the Panthers can proceed with the plan they've discussed the last several years. That means building a stable roster while they can, so the chance at stability at the quarterback position can make a difference.

Of course, the Panthers don't have that at the quarterback position right now, and that's an obvious focus as people think ahead to the offseason.

While PJ Walker is playing well at the moment, the Panthers have just one quarterback under contract for next season — injured rookie Matt Corral.

With Walker, Baker Mayfield, and Sam Darnold all slated to be free agents this offseason (Walker would be a restricted free agent), the Panthers have as close to a clean slate at the position as you're ever going to get. That's good from the standpoint of not having a lot of cap money tied up (offering financial flexibility) but bad from the perspective of not having a clear answer at quarterback (which is kind of important).

But after dealing Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers went from having nine picks combined in 2023 and 2024 to having 14, with all of next year's in the first five rounds and seven of the 14 total in the first three rounds after acquiring a 2023 second, third, fourth, and a 2024 fifth from the 49ers for McCaffrey. (You can see all the Panthers' 2023 draft picks here, and the 2024 draft picks by clicking here.)

That kind of draft currency offers flexibility for the hunt for a quarterback, which is helpful.

And as you look at the roster, there are fewer obvious needs than you might think.

There are nine starters on offense now (everything but the quarterback and center Bradley Bozeman) under contract through 2023 or beyond. On defense, the only current starter not under contract is defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, underscoring Fitterer's contention that the base of talent here is solid.

That includes a few key starters at high-value positions such as defensive end (Burns), cornerback (Jaycee Horn), wide receiver (Moore), and left tackle (Ikem Ekwonu).

And when you look at the list of unrestricted free agents heading into the offseason, you realize it's heavy on depth players. That group includes Mayfield and Darnold, along with Bozeman and backup offensive linemen Cameron Erving and Michael Jordan, receivers Rashard Higgins and Andre Roberts, running back D'Onta Foreman, Ioannidis and defensive end Henry Anderson, linebacker Cory Littleton, safeties Myles Hartsfield, Sam Franklin Jr., Sean Chandler, and Juston Burris, long snapper JJ Jansen, and kicker Eddy Piñeiro.

Even with that context, there's clearly some work to be done on this roster and some turnover of current starters possible. But they're looking ahead at an offseason of fine-tuning rather than overhauling, and that's a different spot than they've occupied in the recent past.

Brian Burns

A new deal for Burns clearly looms on the horizon. He's under contract for the $16 million fifth-year option on his rookie deal for 2023, and the possibility of the franchise tag for one or two years after that leaves them room and time to negotiate.

And with a drafted quarterback looking like a strong possibility and so many existing starters under contract, there should be room to make some targeted additions in free agency.

Again, there are a lot of starters coming back from a team that's 2-6 at the moment, and they don't really know who their coach and quarterback will be next year, so their situation is far from ideal.

But as the Panthers look into an offseason with uncertainty at those two critical positions, the front office can also point to a path forward once they settle those spots.

View the best photos from the pre-game, warmups and game action in Week 8 between Carolina and Atlanta.

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