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Carolina Panthers: Building an NFL Trade Deadline Wish List

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2012

Carolina Panthers: Building an NFL Trade Deadline Wish List

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    After starting the season with a 1-5 record, the Carolina Panthers made their first major in-season move on Monday by firing long time general manager Marty Hurney.

    Hurney, who is close friends with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, started with the team in 1998, and he served as Carolina's general manager from 2002 through Week 7 of the 2012 NFL season.

    More moves could be forthcoming for the Panthers, who are looking to rebound from one of the worst starts in franchise history with the NFL trade deadline looming just six days away on Oct. 30.

    The Panthers have a long-held philosophy of building the team through the draft rather than through free agency or mid-season trades, but with Hurney's ouster, all options are on the table for Carolina's players and coaches.

    Everyone's job is on the line now, including key players and members of the coaching staff who have a combined record of 7-15 since Ron Rivera became Carolina's head coach in 2011.

    Now that Hurney is gone, will the Panthers decide to change their team-building strategy by making a major in-season move to spark the team in a new direction for the rest of the season?

    With several positions on the Carolina roster in need of an upgrade, here is a look at four players currently on other teams who could make an immediate impact in a Panthers uniform.

Trade Bait

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    In order to execute a trade, you've got to have some trade bait.

    The first thing the Carolina Panthers need to decide if they are going to pursue a trade before next week's deadline is which players they are willing to part with.

    Unfortunately, to get a lot, sometimes you have to be willing to part with a lot.

    Carolina is deepest at the running back and linebacker positions, and they have several up-and-comers at the defensive end position.

    I am not predicting a fire sale or for the Panthers to trade away too many of their most valuable assets, but three of the biggest names on the Panthers' roster could be on the trading block if the front office decides to pursue a trade.

    Of course, I never would have said this before Jerry Richardson fired his good friend and general manager earlier this week, but we are now at the beginning stages of a new era in Panthers history.

     

    DeAngelo Williams

    DeAngelo Williams, who earlier this season became just the second player in NFL history after Jim Brown to gain more than 5,000 rushing yards while maintaining a career average of 5.0 yards per carry, is definitely on the hot seat.

    For the first time ever, when both of the Panthers' running backs were healthy, Jonathan Stewart got the start over Williams against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7.

    Williams was limited to four yards on just two carries against the Cowboys, and he has only picked up 177 yards on 50 carries so far this season.

    This could be a case of Williams simply being misused, but with Jonathan Stewart signed up for the next four seasons beyond 2012, it could be time for "Double Trouble" to finally split up.

     

    Jon Beason

    Jon Beason has been nicked up throughout the season with knee and shoulder injuries that have kept him out of the Panthers' past two games.

    When healthy, Beason is still one of the best middle linebackers in the game, but he has missed 17 of Carolina's last 22 games after rupturing his Achilles in the first game of the season in 2011.

    On top of that, rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has played his best two games of the season since sliding over to MLB in Week 5, and Thomas Davis and James Anderson are both playing great at outside linebacker.

    Carolina may be willing to part with some of its linebacker depth to upgrade at other positions, and Jon Beason is one of the most valuable players the Panthers have to offer other teams.

     

    Charles Johnson

    Though it is not likely any team will be willing to take over "Big Money's" gargantuan contract—the next four years of his contract count for $55 million against Carolina's salary cap—Johnson is the Panthers' best defensive lineman.

    Despite all the money he is making, Johnson has under-produced as a pass rusher.

    His best season came in 2010 when he recorded 11.5 sacks, and all 3.5 of his sacks so far in 2012 came in one game against the Atlanta Falcons.

    Johnson is also unhappy about Marty Hurney's firing—he took to his Twitter account on Monday to express his displeasure—and perhaps he could benefit from a change of scenery.

    However, of the three players listed here, Johnson is the least likely to get a new NFL address before next week.

    Now, on to tackle the Panthers' biggest needs in the following slides.

Wide Receiver

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    The Carolina Panthers need a game-breaking No. 2 wideout, and Brandon LaFell is not that guy.

    LaFell is a nice NFL receiver as the third option for most NFL teams, but through the first six games of the season he has not proven to be a capable No. 2 target for the Panthers.

    In fact, resident No. 1 Steve Smith may be more effective at this point in his career as a dominant No. 2 with a high-volume receiver able to step into his spot.

    Smith is a much more dangerous option running slant patterns and catching quick bubble screens like the New England Patriots' Wes Welker than he is as a downfield threat or as a receiver who can consistently move the chains.

    Carolina missed on a golden opportunity to pursue Brandon Lloyd prior to last season's trade deadline—thanks, Marty Hurney—but there are other dangerous receivers who would relish the opportunity to play with Cam Newton and to help the Panthers' offense reach its full potential.

     

    Potential Panther

    Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers

    Jennings could be on his way out of Green Bay after the season with Jordy Nelson taking over this season as Aaron Rodgers' favorite target. 

    Though he has been injured for much of the season, Jennings made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons and, at age 29, he is still young enough to ease the transition when Steve Smith retires in two or three years.

Safety

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    Even the strongest armor is only as effective as its weakest link, and the Panthers' weakest link defensively is safety Haruki Nakamura.

    Nakamura would have had a more productive day as a popcorn salesman at the Georgia Dome in Carolina's 30-28 loss against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 when he was burned repeatedly on deep passes to Roddy White.

    Despite his shoddy performance this season, Nakamura continues to start and split time with last year's starter, Sherrod Martin, at the free safety position.

    The Panthers have to address the safety position sometime in the near future, either in the draft, via trade or through free agency, and an immediate upgrade to the position would help the Carolina defense tremendously.

     

    Potential Panther

    Reed Doughty, S, Washington Redskins

    Doughty is not a star player in anybody's book, but he is a solid player who can bring an added toughness the the Panthers' defense.

    Doughty is a physical player, and at 6'1" he is about three inches taller than the diminutive Nakamura who has proven to be a liability against taller wide receivers this season. 

    He is also a more reliable tackler than either Nakamura or Martin and much more effective in the run game than both Panthers free safeties.

    Though no one will mistake him for Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu or LaRon Landry, Doughty would be a solid piece to Carolina's defensive puzzle, and his lunch-pail work ethic would make him a quick favorite among Panthers fans.

Kick/Punt Returner

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    The Carolina Panthers thought they solved their kick and punt returning woes this season by selecting Joe Adams in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    Unfortunately, the speedy and elusive rookie returner/wide receiver from Arkansas has trouble holding onto the ball, and he has been inactive for the past three games after fumbling twice—once on a kickoff return and once on a muffed punt catch—in Week 3 against the New York Giants.

    At least defensive back Captain Munnerlyn can catch the ball cleanly, but he is not an elusive runner, nor is kick returner Kealoha Pilares.

    Through six games, the Panthers have exactly one punt return for more than 20 yards (22 yards) and one kickoff return longer than 30 yards (31 yards).

    The Panthers have suffered from a consistent field-possession deficit all season, and they could greatly benefit from a dangerous returner at both positions.

     

    Potential Panther

    Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay

    That's right, another Green Bay receiver. 

    Cobb handles both the kick and punt return duties for his team, and he ranks 13th in kick return average and eighth in yards per punt return.

    The speedy wideout could also add another effective weapon to the Panthers' offense from the slot receiver position.

Tight End

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    The Carolina Panthers' offense flourished in 2011 when they had a pair of standout pass-catching tight ends in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.

    Olsen is still around, and he has been the Panthers' most reliable receiver this year—when Cam Newton has looked for him.

    Just a season ago, Newton was more likely to check down to one of his tight ends when he was unable to find an open receiver downfield or when Carolina simply needed to move the chains for a first down.

    Though many of Carolina's troubles in the passing game have come from moving away from two-tight end power formations to a college-friendly spread offense, the presence of a second receiving tight end would give Newton another check-down target.

     

    Potential Panther

    Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots

    Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, but he has just 17 catches for 143 yards in four games this season.

    The Patriots already have a stud tight end in Rob Gronkowski, who established a single-season NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2011, but would they be willing to part with their No. 2 tight end to add depth to their backfield—Stevan Ridley is currently seventh the NFL's seventh-leading rusher—or to bolster their 16th-ranked pass rush?

    Probably not, since they signed Hernandez to a $40 million contract extension to keep him close to home through the 2008 season, but then again, this is just a wish list, right?

     

    Jimmy Grappone is a featured columnist covering the Carolina Panthers on B/R and a featured blogger for the golfing website www.back9network.com.

    Please follow me on Twitter @jimmygrappone and join in the discussion where I tweet about all things sports related.

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