Now that the Panthers have pulled the plug on the Matt Rhule regime, teams are already "sniffing around" Carolina to gauge the availability of young playmakers, according to . That includes, most notably, star running back Christian McCaffrey. While the Panthers can refuse such inquiries, the expectation around the NFL, per The Washington Post, is that they'll be willing to listen, if not eat salary to facilitate certain trades.
McCaffrey, 26, has battled injuries in each of the past three seasons, playing just 10 combined games from 2020-2021. When healthy, however, the two-time All-Pro has been one of the NFL's top dual-threat backs, twice topping 100 catches. He's just two years removed from signing a four-year, $64 million extension with Carolina, and is due close to $20 million in each of the next two seasons, but any potential acquiring team would have the flexibility to release him with minimal penalty as early as 2023.
With that in mind, here are six logical landing spots for the former Pro Bowler, in the event the Panthers are willing to shop him:
Trading anything of value for an injury-prone running back is not what Washington should be doing at 1-4, with Ron Rivera on the hot seat, but since when have they followed the rules when it comes to trading for big names? Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner were both on staff with Carolina when McCaffrey entered and/or emerged in the NFL, and the Commanders haven't been fully comfortable with Antonio Gibson as the top back this year. Carson Wentz is flailing behind a battered line, so in theory, CMC would at least give him a better safety valve.
Word on the street is the Eagles would've happily taken McCaffrey had he lasted to their first-round pick in 2017. That year, general manager Howie Roseman bought into the team's Super Bowl aspirations and dealt a pick for then-Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi at the deadline, proving he's willing to rent a starter if the time is right. Adding CMC would put a dent in Miles Sanders' workload as he approaches free agency, but it makes sense otherwise, considering how much the Eagles lean on the run. McCaffrey lined up next to Jalen Hurts would give Philadelphia one of the most unpredictable backfields in the league.
All of a sudden, San Francisco looks like the class of the NFC West again. What better way to cement that status than by bolstering Kyle Shanahan's favorite position group? Yes, he tends to get production out of whomever is carrying the ball behind their line, with Jeff Wilson Jr. and Tevin Coleman the latest one-two punch. But those vets have their own durability issues, and Elijah Mitchell is still sidelined. McCaffrey would surely make a new best friend for Jimmy Garoppolo, and it's not like the West Coast is foreign to him; he spent his college days starring in California at Stanford.
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Nathaniel Hackett's team-up with Russell Wilson has been erratic at best, and GM George Paton proved this offseason he's willing to go big to fill holes sooner rather than later. With Javonte Williams out for the year and Melvin Gordon in the doghouse as a steady fumbler, Denver could use an adrenaline injection in the backfield, especially with Wilson struggling to elevate the squad. McCaffrey's short-area receiving ability would also bode well for Russ establishing a rhythm. As a bonus, there's a hometown connection, with McCaffrey growing up in Colorado as the son of former Broncos standout Ed McCaffrey.
It's desperation season in L.A., where GM Les Snead's win-now endeavors have failed to give Matthew Stafford enough protection up front. Neither Cam Akers nor Darrell Henderson Jr. is making much noise on the ground, and Stafford isn't connecting with anyone but Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee through the air. Wouldn't it be just like Snead to make the splashy quick fix? Just a year ago he dealt a pick for Sony Michel at the same spot. Now, the need is even more dire, and Sean McVay is creative enough to incorporate McCaffrey as the multipurpose weapon that he is. His assistant, Jake Peetz, just happened to be CMC's position coach during the back's career year with the Panthers.
Buffalo is the perceived top suitor for just about any big-name veteran on the market, seeing as Josh Allen has them rolling toward a hopeful Super Bowl bid. Besides the fact they've sniffed around dual-threat upgrades in the backfield, spending a second-round pick on James Cook this year, they've got all kinds of staff ties to McCaffrey: coordinator Ken Dorsey, QBs coach Joe Brady and offensive assistant Mike Shula were all in prominent roles with the Panthers during CMC's Carolina career. He'd fit in right away as another outlet for Allen, relegating Devin Singletary and Zack Moss to complementary jobs.