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Dolphins training camp 2021: Why was Greg Little available from Panthers?

NFL: Preseason-Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers completed a trade ahead of last week’s roster-cut deadline that sent a seventh-round draft pick from Miami to the Panthers for offensive tackle Greg Little. A 2019 second-round pick, Little has the potential to challenge for a starting role on Miami’s offensive line, or serve as the team’s swing tackle, providing depth on both sides of the line.

But, a second-round pick is not usually traded after two seasons, especially when the return is simply a seventh-round pick. So why would Carolina already be giving up on Little? Logic would suggest that they were planning to cut Little as the roster limit moved from 90- to 85-players, with Miami looking to acquire him without the risk of another team using a waiver claim on the former Ole Miss tackle. After being the replacement for Laremy Tunsil in college, Little is now on the team that selected Tunsil in 2016.

What happened with Little in Carolina? I asked that question to Bradley Smith from SB Nation’s Panthers team site, Cat Scratch Reader. After initially writing that he cannot believe the Panthers were able to get anything in return for Little, he provided a more in-depth look at what exactly happened.

(Note: Smith provided this look Tuesday after the trade, but I buried it in my emails and never got around to posting it. A big thank you to him for taking the time on a busy roster-cut day to write about Little, only to have me fail to use it until now.)

The Panthers were hopeful that they would finally solve their long-standing issues at left tackle when then-general manager Marty Hurney traded back up in the second round of the 2019 draft (CAR traded picks 47 and 77 to SEA for pick 37) to take Greg Little.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for Carolina. Little has battled ankle injuries and concussions since being drafted, which have prevented him from having any chance of winning the starting left tackle job. He was placed on injured reserve in both 2019 and 2020, and the Panthers were probably not going to keep him on their 53-man roster this year. To be honest, the fact that Miami was willing to give them something in return for him — even something as insignificant as a seventh round pick — is a major plus for the Panthers.

This was written by Walker Clement on CSR when Little was placed on injured reserve last season:

Across two seasons, Little has appeared in 14 games, starting six of them. He has missed time due to a series of concussions and ankle and knee injuries. It is unclear if this current ankle injury is related to the one that slowed him down in 2019.

Even when healthy, Little hasn’t seized his spot in the left tackle rotation for the Panthers this season. Free agent signing Russell Okung expectedly beat Little, a former second round pick, out for the starting job but has also missed plenty of time due to injury. The left tackle position in Okung’s absences has been manned by a rotation of Trent Scott, Little, and Dennis Daley. Scott, a 2018 undrafted free agent, currently appears to be the Panthers top back up to Okung.