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Analysis: Rams need help, but trading for Panthers star Christian McCaffrey isn’t the answer

If that was a casting call, Christian McCaffrey nailed the part.

The star running back’s unspoken message to the Rams was anything but subtle. It was basically, “Come and get me.”

The Rams should resist that urge.

Yes, their signature move is making splashy, forehead-slapping transactions, doing so to great effect last season in trading for linebacker Von Miller and signing free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., both of whom more than earned their Super Bowl rings.

The Rams are living on hope these days, and, with the NFL trade deadline two weeks away, McCaffrey is the Hope Diamond.

That’s not to say he’ll wind up in Los Angeles, or that Carolina will trade him at all, although it’s a safe bet the Panthers will pick up the phone and listen. They dropped to 1-5 with Sunday’s 24-10 loss, and their season is beyond salvaging.

Take away McCaffrey’s contribution — 69 yards rushing, 89 yards receiving — and the Panthers generated a paltry 54 yards of offense. They fired their coach, are down to backup quarterback P.J. Walker and soon will be showing Robbie Anderson the door after the wide receiver argued with coaches on the sideline Sunday and was sent to the locker room before the game ended.

Lots of teams would want the versatile McCaffrey. It’s easy to envision him in San Francisco red, Buffalo blue, Philadelphia green. But, as any fantasy football owner will remind you, he spends a lot of time in a boot and on crutches.

This was McCaffrey’s 24th career game with at least 50 yards rushing and receiving. Only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk had more (41).

Breathe into a paper bag and calm down, Rams. Yes, you need another explosive weapon. Cooper Kupp can’t carry the entire offense on his shoulders, but this team has a far more pressing crisis up front.

It’s six weeks into the season and the Rams have shuffled their offensive line for every game. They’re on their third-string center and their third-string left guard, and they have a right guard who wasn’t even on the team when the season started. If you took the eight top offensive linemen at the start of training camp, only two — Alaric Jackson and Rob Havenstein — have stayed healthy throughout.

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey puts a big hit on Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey in the third quarter.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Now, the week off comes at the right time for the Rams because they’ll be getting some good players back, among them center Brian Allen, cornerbacks Troy Hill and Cobie Durant, and — drumroll — wide receiver Van Jefferson, a key target for Matthew Stafford.

For all their offensive struggles, the Rams have looked good on defense in recent weeks.

The McCaffrey case is complicated. It won’t surprise anyone that the Rams don’t have a first-round pick in next spring’s draft. They famously trade those away and haven’t had a selection in the opening round since they took Jared Goff in 2016.

The Panthers probably are looking for a first-round pick for McCaffrey, although it’s almost unheard of for a running back to command that. If that’s the asking price, the Rams won’t be in the mix. The best they have is a second, and they might not even part with that.

McCaffrey is due to make $12 million in 2023, so he’s not a half-season rental the way the free-agency-bound Miller was. You trade for McCaffrey and you’re walking down the aisle. That’s not a bad thing; he’s a great player. But it’s a commitment.

Moving McCaffrey — not a guarantee but certainly a possibility — also hinges on the expectations of Panthers owner David Tepper. He’s a hedge-fund guy whose whole life is about valuations. He might not see eye to eye with any suitors out there.

Another factor that could complicate trades this season is the NFL, and particularly the NFC, is a big mush pot of mediocrity. Look at what happened Sunday. Green Bay was embarrassed at home by the New York Jets. Tampa Bay fell to one-win Pittsburgh. San Francisco lost to Atlanta by two touchdowns.

Of the 32 teams, 22 are .500 or worse. In other words, very few clubs are ready to pack it in, call it a season and trade their best players. It looks as if Carolina is ready to do that … for the right price.

So should the Rams jump into a bidding war? It fits their profile, and McCaffrey unquestionably would be a dynamic addition to their sputtering offense. But this time they need to take a pass. If they make a trade, it should be to beef up their offensive line or bolster their pass rush.

They’ll soon be getting some essential players off the injured list. Let those be their de facto midseason moves this year. Making a splash is great, but only after you’ve proven you can keep your head above the water line.

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