Matt Rhule was fired as coach of the Carolina Panthers earlier this week and trade rumors immediately popped up about the team's best players, most prominently Christian McCaffrey. There were counter-leaks that strongly suggested the Panthers do not want to trade their All-Pro running back, but we know how the game works. Nobody ever has any intention of trading a guy like that until they do.
And it makes sense for the Panthers to, at the very least, look into it. McCaffrey is electric when he's healthy but has been notoriously not healthy for the last three years. A contending team could be talked into forking over a pretty high draft pick if they're convinced this is the year to go all-in and McCaffrey is currently healthy enough to play. If Carolina feels the same way then the time to strike is over the next few weeks, before the trade deadline on the first of November. The larger issue is McCaffrey's contract but that can be worked around for a desperate enough team.
Should the Panthers decide to blow it all the way up and trade McCaffrey, here are the four potential trade partners.
The aforementioned leak/counter-leak battle involved the Bills. Very soon after Rhule got canned, a report emerged that Buffalo called to inquire after McCaffrey. Quickly thereafter a report surfaced denying that happened. The Bills would go after McCaffrey for the same reasons they'd go after Saquon Barkley-- it's an all-in, championship season and the only offensive skill position lacking a superstar is running back. McCaffrey is riskier business since he still has three years left on a $64 million contract but he'd work wonders next to Josh Allen.
San Francisco 49ers
It's a weird season for San Francisco with Jimmy Garoppolo under center after Trey Lance's season-ending injury. Are they contending? Are they treading water until Lance gets back? Who really knows. But Shanahan would have a blast with McCaffrey back there and a cheap QB contract in Lance means a lot of money to spend elsewhere. Getting McCaffrey to increase the team's chances of winning now while pocketing a top-tier weapon to help a young signal-caller for the next few seasons isn't the worst idea in the world as long as the price is right.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have struggled a bit in the RB department in the Patrick Mahomes era. They've run the ball fine but all the guys on the roster right now have clear weaknesses and there isn't a three-down back in sight. McCaffrey with Andy Reid would be nightmarish for opposing defenses and help ensure KC is doing everything possible to keep the championship window ajar in the AFC arms race. It would be out of character for how the Chiefs are building their team with Mahomes in the prime of his contract for the foreseeable future but anything can happen should McCaffrey become available and Carolina doesn't want to send him within the NFC.