Panthers' moves hurt Bears' plan for best-case trade return


Ryan Poles had a plan when he traded the No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers. He saw a trade return that gave him everything he wanted. He also undoubtedly saw a way that return -- wide receiver DJ Moore, the No. 9 overall pick, No. 61, a 2024 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-rounder -- could get even better.

In getting the Panthers to include Moore in the trade, Poles severely weakened a Carolina offense that plans to start a rookie quarterback in 2023 and increased the value of the Panthers' 2024 first the Bears secured in the trade.

Yes, the NFC South is wide-open, but betting against a team with a rookie quarterback and limited offensive weapons is a safe wager.

It took all of two weeks for the Panthers to

Carolina entered free agency with a skill position group led by running back Chuba Hubbard, tight end Ian Thomas, and wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Terrace Marshall Jr.

Even in a horrific division, surrounding a rookie quarterback with those limited weapons is a recipe for racking up losses.

If the Panthers were serious about contending for the NFC South, they had to completely restock their arsenal.

The reloading started in the backfield when the Panthers signed the best running back on the market in Miles Sanders. Sanders, 26, is coming off the best season of his career, in which he rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Sanders isn't elite in any category, he's good in a very good back who is a weapon in the passing game and a solid pass protector.

The Panthers then went to work on their receiving corps by adding veterans Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark.

Thielen, 32, is past his prime but remains a reliable receiver with good hands who excels at getting open. Thielen probably won't be as productive in Carolina without an elite wide receiver on the other side. However, he's still a significant upgrade over what was in a barren cupboard after Moore's exit.

In Chark, the Panthers take a flier on a 26-year-old receiver with a high ceiling. Chark struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, but his height and speed are worth the one-year gamble for the Panthers.

The Panthers also added veteran tight end Hayden Hurst, but I'm not sure that makes the needle move.

In 10 days, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer assembled a solid supporting cast to surround C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young.

Sanders, Thielen, and Chark aren't elite, but their signings give the Panthers an arsenal that's good enough to compete in and potentially win the doormat NFC South.

A pick Poles and the Bears hoped would land in the top 10 next April now looks like it could wind up being the first-round pick of the NFC South champion. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 8-9 last season, will pick 18th this April.

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Betting against the Panthers, especially while landing an elite receiver in Moore, was still a good move by Poles.

Yes, the Panthers are in a weak division and are stocked with young talent. But rookie quarterbacks often struggle, and Carolina is one or two injuries on offense away from being in big trouble in 2023.

With the additions of Sanders, Thielen, and Chark, the Panthers replaced a large portion of the offensive production they lost by shipping Moore to Chicago.

Having two first-round picks is still a win for Poles and the Bears. However it shakes, the Bears did well to add to their draft cupboard and are well-positioned as the rebuild ramps up. But the Panthers' moves have, at least on paper, harmed the value of that 2024 first-round pick.

But that can swing back in the Bears' favor in a heartbeat -- or with one false step on April 27.

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