The 2023 NFL Draft is 48 days away, but perhaps the biggest trade has already happened: The Chicago Bears have reportedly sent the No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver D.J. Moore, the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick, a 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick.
The move will have long-reaching ramifications and it could completely alter the trajectories of two franchises searching for new identities.
On one side is the Bears, who head into a pivotal third season with Justin Fields under center and their second season with general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus at the helm. This move allows Poles to reshape the roster in his own image and fill huge positional gaps across the roster.
And on the other end is the Panthers, a team with an expensive new coaching staff led by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich. The franchise has been in quarterback purgatory since Cam Newton left in 2020. It appears that in addressing the team’s quarterback question, general manager Scott Fitterer gave up a lot, but at least a solution is in sight after four years of ambiguity and stop-gap choices.
Why the Bears did it
The trade gives Chicago an extra early round pick in each of the next three drafts, which is huge for a team with a young quarterback and a lot of holes. This year, the Bears now have two second-round picks even after the team traded its own to the Pittsburgh Steelers for receiver Chase Claypool — Nos. 53 (after the Roquan Smith trade) and 61. Chicago’s No. 64 pick opens the third round.
Poles can do a lot of damage with those three picks and the No. 9 selection.
Acquiring a standout wideout in Moore is perhaps the most underrated aspect of this trade. Moore will be 26 by the start of the season and tallied at least 1,100 receiving yards from 2019-21 with quarterbacks like Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker and a declining Newton. In 2022, he caught a career-high seven touchdowns with 888 receiving yards with Walker, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield under center. Moore’s contract is also super flexible after this season: He comes with a $20.1 million salary cap hit in 2023 but only $1.1 million is guaranteed in the final two years, per Over The Cap.
The Bears have enough cap space to absorb Moore’s salary and still lead the league with approximately $70 million in effective salary cap (which includes the expected rookie signings), per Over the Cap. Moore, Claypool, fellow wideout Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet and running back Khalil Herbert are a solid young core for Fields to work with and the cap space will allow Poles to strengthen the defense and offensive line with veterans in free agency.
Why the Bears could regret it
The only real consequence of the trade for Chicago is that the Bears moved all the way back to No. 9. Yes, Chicago will still get a top-10 player, but the team could miss out on some of the best defensive prospects who may not fall that far down the board. Pass rushers like Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson, and defensive tackle Jalen Carter are all projected to go in the top five of Charles McDonald’s last mock draft.
Chicago may have to settle for the third- or- fourth-best defensive player, depending on how the board falls, or grab an offensive lineman. Options include edge rusher Nolan Smith, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson or Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison.
Still, the Bears put themselves in a very good position next month and at least next year as well.
Why the Panthers did it
Carolina will likely aim to draft its quarterback of the future, although multiple reports indicate the Panthers could still move back if they like more than one passer. Either way, all options are on the table for Fitterer and Reich — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis.
There is something to be said about clarity at the most important position in football, especially after years of middling options under center.
The next Panthers quarterback will work with an incredibly experienced staff that features two former NFL quarterbacks — Reich and QBs coach Josh McCown — as well as a Sean McVay disciple in offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and a two-time former head coach in senior assistant Jim Caldwell.
Getting “their guy” under center is the biggest positive, but two more low-key aspects of the trade that will help the Panthers’ rebuilding efforts include getting Moore’s contract off the books and keeping the team’s 2023 second-round pick. Carolina will have around $14 million in effective salary cap space — barring other veteran cuts — with Moore gone and can still grab a possible starter with the No. 39 pick. This is all possible because of the Christian McCaffrey trade to the San Franciso 49ers during the 2022 season — the Panthers sent the 49ers’ No. 61 pick in the deal to the Bears and still have four more picks in Rounds 3-5.
Why the Panthers could regret it
The cupboard is bare in Carolina after this and the McCaffrey trades.
The Panthers’ receiving corps after Moore is bad: Terrace Marshall Jr. (45 career receptions, one touchdown), Laviska Shenault (148 career receptions, six touchdowns) and Shi Smith (28 receptions, two touchdowns).
Leading rusher D’Onta Foreman is a pending free agent and Chuba Hubbard has been hit-or-miss in his career. Tight ends Tommy Tremble and Ian Thomas combined for 35 receptions, 502 yards and three touchdowns last season.
That’s not a lot for a rookie quarterback to work with. The Panthers will need to add a lot of pieces in free agency and in the draft — something that will be harder to do now with fewer draft picks over the next few years. The Panthers have only two top-100 picks after No. 1 in this year’s draft.
While the price to move up eight spots wasn’t necessarily more than the six other trades for the No. 1 pick since 1990, it was still a lot. The Los Angeles Rams sent two seconds, two thirds and a future first to the Tennessee Titans to move from No. 15 to No. 1 in 2016, while the Panthers sent only their own No. 9 pick, two seconds, one future first and a receiver (whom they were shopping for a first-rounder at the 2022 trade deadline).
Carolina better hope whichever quarterback it takes is the right man to save its franchise.