Cowboys could target Panthers RB Miles Sanders for a trade

A year ago, running back Miles Sanders left the Philadelphia Eagles to be the new starter in Carolina. But after losing his job to Chuba Hubbard and now the Panthers’ drafting of Jonathan Brooks, he could be looking for a new team soon. Would it make sense for the Dallas Cowboys to bring Sanders back to the NFC East?

A second-round pick by Philly in 2019, Sanders played out his rookie contract and finished strong in 2022 with a 1,269-yard and 11-touchdown season, earning a Pro Bowl spot. Frustrated by having to share so many carries with QB Jalen Hurts, he left the Eagles in free agency to lead Carolina’s backfield. But after a slow start in the Panthers’ struggling offense, Sanders injured his shoulder in Week 5.

While Sanders was out for a few weeks, third-year prospect Chuba Hubbard stepped into the role and brought a spark to the run game. By the time Sanders returned, he was left in a backup role and only got a handful in carries in most of the Panthers’ remaining games. Now, after Carolina used their 2024 second-round pick on Texas’ Jonathan Brooks, it feels like Sanders may not have much longer in Charlotte.

Sanders still has three years left on his deal but it’s not prohibitive for a trade or release. His base salaries range from about $4-$5 million, with a $2 million roster bonus this year and $1 million each of the final two years. That contract and the Cowboys spending habits we’ll cover in a bit. The Panthers would get $1.2 million cap relief by trading him before June 1st and $4.2 million if they do it after. If they make him a post-June 1st cut, it’s a minimal cap savings of just $200k.

Brooks and Hubbard combined won’t count but around $5 million against Carolina’s cap, so they could probably keep Sanders if they want him on the depth chart. But if Brooks shows he’s ready to go after the ACL injury that hurt his draft stock, the Panthers might try to get something for Sanders and avoid any discontent in the locker room.

Enter the Cowboys, who should still be looking for help at running back after not drafting any last week. Yes, they re-signed Ezekiel Elliott, but he’s here to be a role-player and not the big dog on the depth chart again. With Rico Dowdle’s lack of experience and Royce Freeman’s poor history, the competition needs more to feel like there can be a true winner. Sanders may have hit a wall in Carolina, but the year before that he was in the Pro Bowl..

Now, let’s get to the real issue; would Dallas be willing to pick up over $6 million in cost, at least for this year, in a trade? That wouldn’t be in keeping with their decisions so far this offseason, such as not paying to keep Tony Pollard or add Derrick Henry at about $8 million. They didn’t even want to fork up $4 million for free agent Zack Moss, a potential steal given his production for the Colts last year. That said, after June 1st, the Cowboys will have an extra $9.5 million in cap space from the release of WR Michael Gallup. That could facilitate some moves that Dallas hasn’t been able or willing to do previously.

Another factor here is the Cowboys’ seeming shift to a harder stance on the value of running backs. Sanders turns 27 this week, which is old in RB years, but he’s still two years younger than Elliott. And he has far fewer ticks on his NFL odometer, having not always been a full-time starter for the Eagles and especially after last year with the Panthers.

Granted, trading for Sanders would be a significant shift from Dallas’ handling of the position so far this year. But think back to 2018 when the Cowboys were content to dump Dez Bryant and didn’t really replace him that offseason. They carried Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams from the previous roster, spent a third-round pick on Michael Gallup, and added some lower-tier veterans like Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin. About halfway through the season, after realizing they’d burned themselves with this strategy, Dallas made a big move to trade for Amari Cooper.

Sound familiar? This offseason, Dallas let Tony Pollard walk and their biggest moves so far have been re-signing Dowdle, reuniting with Elliott, and pulling Freeman out of the NFL’s bargain bin. RB1 is still very much open and Sanders, while not being a star, could make more sense in that role than any of the current options. And thanks to the Gallup money coming available in June, the ability to spend a little money on a potential starter will be better than it’s been so far.

Having observed Miles Sanders’ work for four years with the Eagles, and again in last year’s victory over the Panthers, who knows if the Cowboys are even interested. But if Dallas does want to add at least one more consequential running back to their 2024 mix, Sanders may be one of their best remaining opportunities. Ironically, his availability may come from Jonathan Brooks, who many wished the Cowboys would’ve added last week. But perhaps in a trickle-down way, Brooks will still help improve Dallas’ RB room this season.


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