Potential Panthers WR trade candidates: Jerry Jeudy, Hunter Renfrow and more

2RWGJMJ Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) takes the field during player introductions against the Washington Commanders during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

• Panthers reportedly in the market for starting WR: NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on Oct. 1 reported that the Carolina Panthers have “call[ed] several teams about a potential trade for a starting wide receiver.”

• Jerry Jeudy among the most realistic options: Jeudy has a very manageable $12.987 million 2024 fifth-year option, and Carolina would have the ability to either extend him off a strong half-season or see things through for another year.

• Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk among very unrealistic but possible options: Carolina would have to shell out significant capital in a trade to acquire either top receiver.

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes

A report from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on Oct. 1 stated that the Carolina Panthers have “call[ed] several teams about a potential trade for a starting wide receiver.” In a Week 4 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings that afternoon, Carolina’s wide receivers combined to put up 170 receiving yards against a defense that ranked 28th in expected points allowed per dropback through Week 3 and 26th in yards per coverage snap allowed.

The unit has not been all bad, with the return of a healthy D.J. Chark to the lineup providing a boost in recent weeks and veteran Adam Thielen turning back the clock in a Week 3 outing with 11 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. Nonetheless, on too many dropacks you see rookie quarterback Bryce Young with nowhere to go with the football because all of his options are blanketed in coverage. As a unit, Carolina’s wide receivers have a 65.8 receiving grade on the season, tied for 21st, with some other key performance indicators below:

Missed Tackles Forced per Rec. Explosive Rec. % Yards After the Catch per Rec. Drop Rate
0.05 (28th) 21% (28th) 3.8 (20th) 6% (24th)

Looking beyond just the performance of this team’s wide receiver corps in 2023, two of the top five receivers in targets are pending free agents, and a 33-year-old Thielen is the only member of the group who currently ranks in the top 40 among wide receivers in targets on the season despite Carolina currently ranking second in the NFL with 162 pass attempts.

Long story short, the report of Carolina seeking additional help at wideout did not come as a shock. So what can they do?

Top options

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

There is no doubt that after Higgins and the Bengals were unable to reach an agreement on an extension this offseason, with reports the two sides never really came close, teams started calling Cincinnati director of player personnel Duke Tobin to inquire about the young stud wide receiver. Odds are those phone calls were very short-lived. Higgins is now dealing with a broken rib that may cause him to miss a few games, which adds another complication to any hypothetical deal.

Despite a very poor start to the 2023 season with nothing to suggest dramatic improvement is on the horizon, we’d put the likelihood of this move happening before the 2024 offseason, if at all, very close to 0%. Higgins will likely receive the franchise tag heading into 2024, and Cincinnati will then choose whether to engage in trade conversations.

A trade would probably require a first-round pick and perhaps another Day 2 pick. Carolina just traded an absolute haul to acquire Bryce Young in the first place, and wide receiver D.J. Moore‘s inclusion in that trade is why we find ourselves in this situation.

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Aiyuk is set to play in 2024 on a $14 million fifth-year option and will obviously be seeking a major extension before that happens, leading to speculation that a team loaded with big contracts elsewhere on the roster may be willing to move him in a trade. Whatever the financial challenges, which are greatly alleviated by the cheap rookie contract for quarterback Brock Purdy, Aiyuk is simply playing too well right now to think that will happen. He has 17 receptions on the season, but all 17 have gone for a first down or a touchdown. Here’s how he stacks up from an efficiency standpoint:

  • 4.57 yards per route run (1st)
  • 12 explosive receptions (5th) on 17 total receptions
  • 93.6 receiving grade (1st)
  • 0 drops

We’d also put the likelihood of this move happening before the 2024 offseason, if at all, very close to 0%.

Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Pittman was selected one pick after Tee Higgins in the 2020 NFL Draft and is also playing in a contract year in 2023. Indianapolis used a second-round pick on wide receiver Alec Pierce in 2022 and a third-round pick on wide receiver Josh Downs this year, so they do have young playmakers in the fold, but odds are they don’t want to part ways with Pittman, as he’s currently tied for 10th in the NFL with 26 receptions.

Pittman is not a game-breaking, explosive No. 1 wideout but is a very good possession receiver with a large catch radius and just a 4.7% drop rate since 2021. Removing the top target in the offense as rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson continues to develop doesn’t seem like the best idea by any means. Nevertheless, Pittman would be the cheapest of the above options if Carolina wants to add a proven X receiver who is still just 25 years old.

Other big names that we’ll hear about plenty between now and the Oct. 31 trade deadline, such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, Tennessee Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams, don’t make sense for a number of reasons for both parties. Beyond all of the contractual complications, we would assume Carolina doesn’t view a 30-plus-year-old wide receiver as the long-term catalyst for Bryce Young’s continued growth in this offense.

How does Brian Burns factor into the equation?

If Carolina wants to make a splash for a true No. 1 wideout without giving up any remaining first- or second-round draft picks through 2025, sending edge defender Brian Burns in the deal is the clearest path forward. Burns is playing in 2023 on a $16.012 million fifth-year option, so he’s owed about $11.5 million for the rest of the season, with that number reducing by about $900,000 each week until just before the deadline when a team would inherit an $8.89 million salary.

Carolina turned down an offer from the Los Angeles Rams of two first-round picks and one second-round pick for Burns at last year’s deadline and may be regretting that decision after failing to sign Burns to a long-term extension this offseason.

The idea of calling the Los Angeles Rams back to discuss a trade for wide receiver Cooper Kupp as he’s set to return from injured reserve doesn’t make a ton of sense. As productive as Kupp is, he’s 30 years old, missed half of 2022 with injuries and has $20 million in guaranteed compensation for 2024. From the Rams’ perspective, they’d incur an $11.28 million dead cap charge in 2023 and a $27.04 million dead cap charge in 2024. The Rams are also 2-2 with one-score losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, off to a much better start than many expected this season. We’re only half kidding here, but no, Puka Nacua is likely not available, either.

A lot of the teams mentioned that could factor in here either have quality edge depth and/or heavier defensive ends and may not view an outside linebacker like Burns as a scheme fit. The Rams, of course, are a perfect fit, and if the Panthers can get a similar offer on the table — it will not be as much — perhaps they can restock their draft arsenal. Burns has three straight seasons with pass-rush grades above 70.0 and 50-plus quarterback pressures with a pressure rate of 10.8% or better. He will still garner at least one first-round pick, and he’s the top trade deadline name to monitor over the next month with the Panthers off to an 0-4 start.

Realistic targets

Not all hope should be lost, however, as there are a handful of very good wide receivers who may be available in a trade over the next month. Those options include Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton with the Denver Broncos, Darnell Mooney with the Chicago Bears, Hunter Renfrow with the Las Vegas Raiders and Marquise Brown with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Denver has had conversations over the past year about both receivers, with the 24-year-old Jeudy probably the preferred target for Carolina. Jeudy and Young missed playing with each other by a season at Alabama, but there’s no doubt they’ve crossed paths over the years.

Jerry Jeudy Career Grades
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Dating back to last season, Jeudy’s 78.5 receiving grade ranks tied for 26th, his 5.9 yards after the catch per reception ranks sixth and his 2.1 yards per route run ranks 15th. The former first-round pick out of Alabama still has No. 1 wide receiver potential, but Denver is likely still seeking a first-round pick in a trade. What will really help Denver entertain this idea is the continued emergence of rookie wideout Marvin Mims, who has not played a ton of snaps but has been remarkably efficient when he does play.

When we lower minimum snap thresholds, Mims has an 88.2 receiving grade, which currently ranks seventh among wide receivers. His 6.21 yards per route run leads the NFL, and he has five explosive receptions and a touchdown on nine total receptions. His insane efficiency won’t continue with an uptick in snaps, but he needs to play more.

The Broncos released edge defender Randy Gregory on Tuesday amid the unit being a non-factor all season. Denver’s edge rushers rank 30th in pass-rush win rate on the year (14.5%). Brian Burns would be a perfect fit in Denver’s defense, and they could desperately use the help.

This is our pick for the most realistic and mutually beneficial trade option for all parties if Carolina wants to truly make a splash, while also perhaps adding draft capital instead of losing it, but that’s not to say we expect it. Jeudy has a very manageable $12.987 million 2024 fifth-year option, and Carolina would have the ability to either extend him off a strong half-season or see things through for another year.

Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

It’s easy to forget that Mooney went over 1,000 receiving yards in his second season in 2021 with 10 missed tackles forced. Mooney’s 27 missed tackles forced over his first two NFL seasons were tied for the sixth most in the NFL over the span, and his 42 explosive receptions were tied for 23rd. Since then, a dreadful passing attack and injuries have made it a challenge for anyone to produce in the Bears' offense, Mooney included. The shifty and explosive Mooney could be a welcome addition to the Panthers' passing attack, with the ability to win in the slot and out wide as well as produce on quick outs and downfield targets.

Complicating matters is the fact the team is currently in the process of trading or waiving fellow wide receiver Chase Claypool, but they have used top-125 draft picks on wide receivers in consecutive years on Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Scott.

If Mooney does reach free agency, a best-case scenario would be Chicago earning a fourth-round compensatory pick for his departure, but they are almost guaranteed to cancel that out with free agent signings of their own. That late fourth-rounder could be the benchmark to work off with other teams in a hypothetical trade, and a guaranteed 2024 fourth-rounder could ultimately prove more attractive than a hypothetical 2025 fourth-rounder that complicates free agent spending.

Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders have had phone calls centered on wide receiver Hunter Renfrow this season, and it’d be somewhat of a surprise if he isn’t moved before the Oct. 31 trade deadline. Renfrow has two years remaining on the extension he signed in 2022 but no guarantees beyond this season. An acquiring team would take on a $3.61 million salary for the remainder of 2023 if they add Renfrow right before the deadline, which is a reasonable number.

Renfrow has effectively been an afterthought in this Raiders offense, with seven targets on the season and not many routes run when both Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers have been healthy. Renfrow had 103 receptions for 1,038 yards with nine touchdowns in 2021 and has just 41 receptions for 382 yards and two touchdowns since. Renfrow’s 82.3 receiving grade in 2021 ranked 14th among wide receivers, but his 60.9 mark since ranks 84th out of 104 qualifying wide receivers over the span. Clearly, he is not in the long-term plans of the Raiders' new regime.

Adding a player who can separately quickly at the line of scrimmage and provide Bryce Young with a short-area outlet over the middle could help mitigate some of the issues with the pass-blocking unit up front. And given the salary situation plus Renfrow’s lack of usage, we’re probably talking about a Day 3 pick price point here.

Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals

Last but certainly not least, Brown is currently playing in 2023 on a $13.413 million fifth-year option and has gotten off to a strong start in a new-look Cardinals offense. His 76.1 receiving grade is a top-25 mark among wide receivers through Week 4. The current Cardinals regime did not trade for Brown and perhaps feels less inclined to extend him than the prior group, though he’s an old friend of quarterback Kyler Murray’s and demonstrated a strong connection with him in 2022.

Brown was very productive in 2022 when healthy, ranking in the top 15 among wide receivers in targets, receptions and contested catches over the weeks he played. Prior to his trade to the Cardinals, Brown was coming off a career year in 2021 with the Baltimore Ravens, going over 1,000 receiving yards on 91 receptions with six touchdowns. Brown’s 21 explosive receptions and eight missed tackles forced in 2021 both ranked tied for 24th among wideouts.

Cardinals rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson has been a difference-maker already in Arizona, with his eight explosive receptions and seven receptions on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield the second most among rookie wideouts. Arizona has an extra first-round pick in 2024 from the Houston Texans and could add more draft capital to continue to get younger and cheaper on offense.


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