The Carolina Panthers are in dire need of pass rushers heading into 2019. While they may be planning to address this in the draft, a first round pick alone won’t fill the gaping holes across the defensive line. Here are the defensive ends the Panthers currently have under contract going into 2019: Mario Addison, Bryan Cox Jr., Marquis Haynes, Efe Obada.
That’s actually it. In 2018, this group combined for 11 sacks (Addison had nine). Help may be on the way through the draft, but it would be beneficial for the Panthers to explore outside options. General manager Marty Hurney could still go dumpster diving for a player like Shane Ray in free agency but, with limited cap space I wouldn’t hold my breath there. Enter a trade scenario that could provide Carolina a young, raw talent on a rookie contract: San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas.
Solomon Thomas was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, taken just five slots before his Stanford teammate, Christian McCaffrey, who some of you might be familiar with.
Many national pundits hailed Thomas as the best prospect of the 2017 class. So far, he’s had a slower than expected start to his NFL career. In two years, Thomas has only accumulated four sacks in San Francisco. In 2018, Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 63 EDGE player, which is right around average. Not terrible, but not what we’ve come to expect from a top-five draft pick in the NFL.
After recently acquiring pass rusher Dee Ford from Kansas City for a 2020 second round draft pick, the 49ers are primed to pair Ford with the best edge rusher in the draft at the No. 2 overall pick in April. If San Francisco decides to move forward with drafting Nick Bosa, as many have indicated will occur, they should be looking to move Thomas and recuperate their losses.
What would it take?
The general consensus at this point is that the 49ers won’t be moving forward with Thomas into 2020 and are seeking at least some compensation for his leave. While this doesn’t give them much leverage, there are many teams who could seek interest in a young pass rusher like Thomas.
Player-for-player trades aren’t all too common in today’s NFL, but the Panthers could look into swapping first round busts (defensive tackle Vernon Butler) with the 49ers and throw in a mid-to-late round 2020 pick. Considering the Panthers are currently in line for multiple compensatory picks in 2020, this could be a win-win. Moving Butler seems to be a backburner offseason priority for this team. Acquiring a young pass rusher while dumping Butler would be a phenomenal move by Hurney, especially if the price is right for the pick(s) that would be tacked on.
Once acquired, Thomas’ 2019 cap hit is an absolute bargain relative to what most free agents at his position are seeking.
Update: With a $7.7 million cap hit in 2019 for the 49ers, the Panthers would essentially be filling the space created by the release of Matt Kalil with a 24-year-old former top-three draft pick at a position of need. Carolina would only need to pay his base salary and roster bonus, costing closer to $3 million in cap space and leaving $4 million in dead cap with San Francisco.
The Panthers need pass rushers, and this move could really boost their chances at establishing the multiple defense they want to run moving forward. Trading Butler (a player that they don’t intend to retain past this season) and a late round pick that will be replaced in compensation would be a helluva chess move for Carolina. If Hurney doesn’t even give 49ers general manager John Lynch a call, he’s only hurting himself.
Food for thought. What would you be willing to trade to the 49ers for Thomas?