Trevor Lawrence Panthers
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers were seemingly having themselves a nice month of January. 

Doling out big bucks to former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule added another layer to that, as did hiring former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady to be the team’s offensive coordinator

Unfortunately, Luke Kuechly’s shocking retirement immediately after the end of the regular season changed the landscape here. Without their team leader and with Cam Newton likely headed out of town, the Panthers are in the midst of dramatic change.

It leads us to this theory. Is it time for the Panthers to tank for Trevor Lawrence?

The idea: It might seem a bit ridiculous on the surface. Give up on an entire season to target a quarterback in the draft one year later. But there’s certainly something to this. We will lay it out below.

The Matt Rhule impact: Baylor’s former head coach signed a seven-year contract to replace Ron Rivera in Carolina. It’s a long-term strategy.

  • Carolina made sure that Rhule knew it was not expecting a quick fix when the team signed him to an absurd seven-year contract. Owner David Tepper is in it for the long haul.
  • The idea here is to build up a foundation that was missing under former owner Jerry Richardson. That started in the front office, and is now going to continue on the field.
  • The expectation here is that Rhule will be given a mulligan for his first season or two, somewhat similar to what we saw with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
  • Does this mean a full-scale tear down to build back up? It’s more than likely, and leads us to believe Tepper and Co. are in it for the long haul.

Cam Newton: Despite his injury issues, the Panthers could get something for Newton on the trade block.

  • It goes without saying that this former NFL MVP has played his final game in a Panthers uniform. Newton suited up for two games this past season before suffering a Lisfranc injury.
  • The Panthers have not come close to committing to the 30-year-old signal caller. In fact, suggestions during the season were that former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen was the long-term solution.
  • Given Allen’s struggles, that’s unlikely to be the case. However, Newton himself will be dealt in March. At the very least, that’s what the most-recent reports from Carolina suggest.
  • With quarterback-needy teams all up and down the NFL, the Panthers should be able to get a decent bounty for Newton in a trade. His smallish $21.1 million cap hit in 2020 adds more credence to this idea.

Luke Kuechly’s retirement: This shocking move has left a major leadership void throughout the Panthers’ roster.

  • Not only was Kuechly one of the best defensive players in the NFL, he was right up there with Newton as the face of the franchise. A true leader if there ever was one.
  • Sure the future Hall of Famer could return to the Panthers as a coach. In no way does that mean his on-field leadership won’t be missed. It will.
  • Without Kuechly in the mix to both call plays and act as an inspirational figure, the expectation here is that Carolina’s defense is going to take a step back.

Trevor Lawrence: Generational talent. There’s no other way to go about it, the 2020 Heisman favorite is one of the most truly talented college prospect in a generation.

  • Lawrence’s struggles in the National Championship Game didn’t seem to turn teams off. The Clemson product, as only a sophomore, showed himself to be an elite talent.
  • Lawrence has the frame, accuracy and arm that makes scouts drool. He added tremendous running ability to the mix this past season, something that is needed in today’s NFL.
  • Barring a major injury or regression as a junior, Lawrence is the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Carolina won’t be the only team seriously considering tanking in 2020 for the Clemson star.

2020 offseason outlook

NFL Draft

1- Tristan Wirfs, offensive tackle, Iowa: One of the biggest issues with Newton in Carolina was the lack of an offensive line in front of the quarterback. No matter who is under center, this must be rectified. Carolina nabs a future Pro Bowl left tackle to help anchor this line for years to come.

2- Jordyn Brooks, linebacker, Texas Tech: Getting someone to fill Kuechly’s shoes is not going to be easy. What the Panthers do here is find a ball-hawking linebacker with starter capabilities moving forward. Brooks (6-foot-1, 240) fits Phil Snow’s defense to a T. Both Snow and Rhule have first-hand knowledge of his ability from the Big 12.

3- Michael Pittman Jr., wide receiver, USC: There would be absolutely nothing wrong with finding pieces to help someone of Lawrence’s ilk before even having the opportunity to draft him. At 6-foot-4, this big-bodied receiver would be a perfect fit next to Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore at receiver. He’s everything Carolina’s previous regime thought it was getting in Devin Funchess years back.

Trades/signings

Trade Cam Newton to the Chicago Bears for 2021 second-round pick and Mitchell Trubisky.

  • This trade makes sense for a number of different reasons. First off, Chicago finds itself in win-now mode. Mitchell Trubisky is not the answer. Anyone outside of the Windy City knows this.
  • The Bears are able to add a stopgap option at quarterback without delving into its bounty of 2020 NFL Draft picks.
  • In turn, the Panthers set themselves up well with a second-rounder in 2021 and either trade bait in Trubisky or a stopgap option for themselves.

Trade Mitchell Trubisky to the Patriots for a 2021 second-round pick.

  • The best of both worlds for Carolina here. It turns Newton into two future second-round picks. As a young quarterback who has led his team to the playoffs, Trubisky would still have value on the trade market.
  • For the Patriots, this makes perfect sense. Regardless of Tom Brady’s status moving forward, they need a young quarterback to eventually take over.
  • What better option than to have Trubisky potentially learn under Brady or another veteran without having to give up a 2020 draft pick?

Sign Mackensie Alexander: Carolina would have upwards of $50 million to spend in free agency once the team moves on from Newton. It would want to add young talent with upside or veterans on short-term deals. Still only 26 years old and with a wealth of experience, Alexander makes a ton of sense.

Re-sign James Bradberry: The idea here would be to expedite the rebuild by building a tremendous young cornerback duo. A second-round pick back in 2016, Bradberry has started 60 games in four seasons with Carolina. Teaming him up with Alexander would create a great cornerback group for the Panthers for years to come.

Bottom line

Carolina can find the happy medium between being somewhat competitive in 2020 and putting itself in position to land Lawrence at the top of the following year’s draft.

The plan laid out above is the best possible way for this team to do just that. Build for the future with young talent while committing to the long-term plans that came with hiring Rhule in the first place.

In the process, the Panthers can go with either Kyle Allen or Will Grier as the starter next season while relying on Christian McCaffrey in the backfield.

It’s a process that could allow the Panthers to contend as early as 2021 with McCaffrey still being in his prime and Lawrence set to excel as a rookie.