The Carolina Panthers lost Tyler Gaffney to a season-ending injury, and then they lost the Stanford product for good when the New England Patriots pulled a Jake Ballard move and plucked Gaffney off waivers. They aren’t the only team who does this, but this is the second time the Patriots have poached a notable player in this manner (hopefully it works out better for them the second time around).
Gaffney wasn’t expected to play a big role in the offense, but the injury seemed like a tough pill to swallow at the time. Jonathan Stewart was set to miss some time with an injury, and there didn’t seem to be much else on the roster outside of DeAngelo Williams and Kenjon Barner. But the Panthers second preseason game saw a strong performance from the team’s N0. 4 back, as Fozzy Whittaker put in the best performance of the day with 13 carries for 71 yards, a touchdown, and a reception for 22 yards.
Barner, on the other hand, had 18 yards on seven carries, though the scat back candidate did add a 14-yard catch. Still, Barner hasn’t done much in a Panthers uni in the preseason or regular season despite his projected upside, and I feel like he doesn’t even fit what they want to do on offense anyway. The Panthers running game is predicated on running the ball up the middle in a smashmouth style so that they can set up the pass for Cam Newton, and Barner just hasn’t shown that he can consistently run the ball. He’s more of a change-of-pace outside rusher, but his pass-catching ability hasn’t merited third-down back duties either.
Whittaker’s performance against the Kansas City Chiefs sealed Barner as an expendable piece, because they are both competing for the same role as the change-of-pace back behind Williams and Stewart, which is a key role given Stewart’s injury history. Stewart also had a strong showing against K.C. with two rushing touchdowns, and this display had to hurt Barner a bit.
While I don’t think the Panthers would have given up on Barner for free, trading him for something represents nice value for Dave Gettleman. Barner actually has a good shot at doing some damage with the Philadelphia Eagles as, perhaps, a No. 3 back behind LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. Reunited with Chip Kelly, the former Oregon Ducks star RB can be used in space, and he fits that offensive system better. While the Eagles also prefer to run the ball, they use their backs more in pass protection and have more use for a shifty back like Barner.
I’m sure the Panthers would have used Barner had he shown enough ability, but he simply never showed that he deserved to get on the field. He was actually a player I really wanted to see the Panthers use in the preseason, but Whittaker has shown that he’s the better option. In the team’s first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Barner put up a disastrous eight carries for eight yards with no catches on two targets. That’s an awful performance in all phases, and his pass protection has never been a strength.
Barner was on the roster bubble before the trade anyway, and it makes me believe that the coaching staff simply didn’t view him as a fit. If you don’t fit the offense, then you had better fight for a niche role by showing talent, and Barner simply didn’t do that. I’m surprised the Panthers were able to find a suitor for Barner, though it isn’t surprising to hear that Kelly and the Eagles came calling.
The price of a conditional seventh-round pick is almost as low as it gets (Rolando McClain, of course, earns the award for the lowest trade price of the offseason), but it’s more than most people would expect for a No. 4 RB that hasn’t done anything of note in the NFL. He has some upside, but even then he isn’t a high-upside player; his upside is as a decent scat back. The Panthers will only receive a pick if Barner is on the active roster for four games this season, but he’ll have to really screw up to get cut after Kelly sent a pick for him. Plus, if he is on the roster for less than four games, then he wouldn’t have stuck around in Carolina anyway. Although Barner is a former sixth-round pick, the Panthers feel that they have a better chance of getting a superior player to Barner with a seventh-round pick than developing him, especially since he might be a round peg fitting into a square hole.
Minor moves have lower stakes and get lower grades as a result, so this seems like a B- move for the Panthers. They had someone they didn’t want to keep, he didn’t fit the offense, he hasn’t played well since coming into the league, and he was getting beat by Whittaker anyway. But if Stewart and Whittaker didn’t show up well against K.C., I’m not as sure they would have made this move. But the fact that I’m not “sure” means that his own play clearly wasn’t up to standards.