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The firing of head coach Matt Rhule after starting the 2022 season with a 1-4 record prompted speculation that the Panthers would go into fire sale mode where a majority of players could be available before the Tuesday, Nov. 1 trading deadline. Running back Christian McCaffrey is drawing interest and the Panthers are listening to offers.

The asking price for McCaffrey doesn't suggest a fire sale. NFL Media's Peter Schrager said during Fox's pregame show on Sunday that the Panthers are looking for multiple first round picks to part with McCaffrey. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Carolina has rejected offers from two teams.

McCaffrey re-set the running back market after joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only NFL players to ever have at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 or more receiving yards during the same season (2019). He signed a four-year extension averaging $16,015,853 per year with $39,162,500 of guarantees the following April. McCaffrey has a running back best $30,062,500 fully guaranteed at signing.

McCaffrey is making his $1.035 million league minimum during this season after converting $7.365 million of his $8.4 million base salary into signing bonus in March to free up $5,523,750 of salary cap space. The acquiring team would need enough cap room to absorb the remainder of McCaffrey's current salary. If traded at the Nov. 1 deadline (after Week 8's games), the acquiring team would be responsible for 10/18ths of McCaffrey's 2022 base salary, which is $575,000, and any other applicable salary components in his contract.

McCaffrey is under contract for the next three years through 2025 for $36.2 million. He is scheduled to make $12 million each in 2023 and 2024 consisting of an $11.8 million base salary and a $200,000 workout bonus. In 2025, McCaffrey makes $12.2 million, which is composed of a $12 million base salary and a $200,000 workout bonus. The only security left in McCaffrey's contract is $1 million of the 2023 base salary, which is guaranteed for injury.

The Panthers would have $8,010,750 and $18,352,250 of dead money, a salary cap charge for a player no longer on a team's roster, for McCaffrey in 2022 and 2023 if he is dealt at the deadline. Carolina's 2023 cap savings with a McCaffrey trade would be $1,198,500 since his current 2023 cap number is $19,950,750. His $19,950,750 and $15,450,750 cap numbers in 2024 and 2025 would be wiped off Carolina's books in a trade.

McCaffrey before and after 2020 payday

McCaffrey is one of the NFL's most dangerous offensive weapons when healthy because of his running ability and receiving skills. Prior to becoming the NFL's highest paid running back in April 2020, he had been an ironman. McCaffrey was on the field for 92.4% of Carolina's offensive snaps (2,005 of 2,171 plays) during the previous two seasons. His playtime was easily the most for an NFL running back in that span. 

It's been a different story since McCaffrey got his big payday. He missed 23 of 33 games over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. 

McCaffrey has played in each of Carolina's six games this season. His playtime is 85.2% (257 of Carolina's 337 offensive snaps). McCaffrey is fourth in the NFL with 670 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards). His 33 receptions are second in the league among running backs.

Unfortunately for Carolina, running backs don't command the same value in trades as wide receivers. McCaffrey's dual threat capabilities won't be a major enhancer. Concerns about McCaffrey's durability will surely be factored to the equation by interested teams.

A look at recent trades

There were four veteran wide receiver trades during the offseason involving first round picks. The Raiders acquired wide receiver Davante Adams, who was designated as a franchise player, from the Packers for 2022 first and second round picks in March, a couple days after the start of free agency. The Chiefs followed suit by dealing Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins for five draft picks: 2022 first, second and fourth round picks in addition to 2023 fourth and sixth round picks.

The Titans surprisingly traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft for 2022 first round and third round picks. The Cardinals also gave up their 2022 first round pick to get Marquise Brown and a 2022 third round pick during the Draft.

The last time a running back was traded for a first round pick was in 2013. That's when the Browns dealt Trent Richardson, 2012's third overall pick, to the Colts early in the 2013 season for what turned out to be 2014's 26th overall pick.

Conclusion, and the 1999 trade that could be a barometer

It's been a little over 20 years since a running back has commanded the type of trade compensation the Panthers are reportedly seeking, which should be considered as posturing. In March 2002, the Dolphins acquired Ricky Williams from the Saints for a 2002 first round pick (25th overall) and a conditional 2003 third round pick. The third round pick elevated to a first round pick (18th overall) because Williams rushed for over 1,500 yards in 2002. There was also a swap of 2002 fourth round picks in the trade.

McCaffrey was compared favorably to Marshall Faulk, a first ballot Hall of Famer, because of a similar skill set when he was in the midst of his 1,000/1,000 season. Faulk called McCaffrey a better version of himself around that time.

Faulk was dealt during his illustrious career when he was 26 and entering his sixth NFL season, just like McCaffrey is now, in 1999. The Rams acquired Faulk from the Colts for 1999 second (36th overall) and fifth round picks. Faulk was coming off a 1998 season in which he led the NFL with 2,227 yards from scrimmage when traded.

There won't be a trade before the Nov. 1 deadline unless the Panthers have more realistic expectations about McCaffrey's value. A Pro Bowl caliber running back in his prime such as McCaffrey typically isn't available via trade though. If some team is willing to part with a first round pick for McCaffrey, the Panthers shouldn't balk given the historical trade compensation for running backs. Faulk's draft capital may be a good barometer for a McCaffrey trade. Whether the Panthers find it sufficient to pull the trigger if offered remains to be seen.