The most consequential move in the NFL this week was almost certainly the Carson Wentz trade. Five years removed from trading multiple first-round picks to move up and grab Wentz and two years removed from handing him a monster contract extension, the Philadelphia Eagles were willing to deal him away for a third-round pick and a conditional second (which can become a first based on playing time incentives), eating more than $30 million in dead money on their books in the process.
While the trade of Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts got a lot of attention (and deservingly so), the moves made by the Carolina Panthers throughout the week flew under the radar. And why wouldn't they? On the surface, these moves don't seem to make that big a difference. The Panthers cutting ties with a few veterans as they continue to remake their defense makes sense. Even if those veterans are well-known names like Kawann Short and Tre Boston.
What makes Carolina's moves this week notable, though, are not the names of the players involved, but what those moves accomplished.
Releasing Short (who has played just five games in the last two years) cleared $9.822 million in cap room, according to Spotrac. Getting rid of Boston cleared another $3.5 million, which can be used once June 1 rolls around. By also releasing Stephen Weatherly and punter Michael Palardy, the Panthers $7.68 million more in cap room. On Saturday, the Panthers made another cap-clearing move, converting a portion of center Matt Paradis' base salary into a signing bonus, adding $4,693,334 in cap space to their ledger, according to ESPN's Field Yates.
Add all that up and the Panthers have conjured up an additional $25.7 million in cap space this week alone. They now have nearly $40 million in room under the cap, according to Spotrac, the seventh highest total in the league. That's not a series of moves a team makes without having a reason behind it. It stands to reason that all this maneuvering is connected to new general manager Scott Fitterer's insistence that the team wants to be "in on every deal" throughout the offseason. The Panthers were reportedly involved in the Matthew Stafford talks earlier this offseason, and it's been widely speculated that they're looking to upgrade on incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater.
Considering Bridgewater unfollowed the Panthers on social media on Saturday amid these cap-clearing moves and recent reporting (including from CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora) that Panthers owner David Tepper is "consumed by the prospect of landing [Deshaun Watson] and no matter what happens," and it's difficult not to connect some of these dots.
The Texans, of course, have maintained that they're not interested in dealing Watson at all, and it would stand to reason that they'd be interested in a better draft pick than the Panthers' No. 8 overall selection as the centerpiece of a deal, should they change their minds. But if the Panthers are as motivated as they seem, perhaps they can make an attractive enough offer to get a deal done. They've got some of the offensive infrastructure in place to help Watson find success, including offensive coordinator Joe Brady and wide receivers D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel, plus Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. With those weapons, it's no wonder the team is highly motivated to upgrade at football's most important position.