The NFL free agency pot is boiling these days, with Peyton Manning apparently headed to Denver to play for John Fox and Tim Tebow likely to be traded. That’s huge news nationally, and I’m going to blog about it soon.
The big news locally, though, is the signing of running back Mike Tolbert, a former Coastal Carolina back whose 5-9, 243-pound build has long been compared to a bowling ball. His agent Joel Turner said Tolbert wanted to join the Panthers so badly he “left over a million on the table” to come to Charlotte.
Tolbert will join a crowded backfield that, for now, includes DeAngelo Williams (signed to a huge contract last year), Jonathan Stewart (entering the final year of his contract) and Mike Goodson (who fell out of favor last season and looks very expendable).
The Panthers use Cam Newton as a virtual running back at times, too, especially near the goal line. So can they afford another huge investment in Stewart, who will likely want DeAngelo money and will get it somewhere?
I think this is a good move for the Panthers — Tolbert will shore up the special teams, is versatile enough to play fullback and is a generally good utility guy who played collegiately at Coastal Carolina.
If the Panthers can keep “Double Trouble” together, more power to them. We’ve seen over and over how well Stewart and Williams work together.
But can the Panthers afford to keep Stewart after this season? Maybe not. Two huge contracts is an awful lot to invest in the position when there are many times that Stewart or Williams only carries the ball 10 or so times per game.
With that being said, rumors that DeAngelo or Stewart are on the trading block would not surprise me at all. If Stewart is traded, he would have to sign a new contract extension with the new team — nobody would want to trade some significant assets for him and then risk losing him after a year (much like Greg Olsen did with Carolina).
If there are no trade takers — and either Stewart or DeAngelo, to me, would be worth a No.1 pick at the least — then you could at least pair them together for the 2012 season and just see what develops. The Panthers have one more year of Stewart at a cheap rate, so they don’t have to make any immediate decisions about this.
But ultimately, Double Trouble is going to have to end sometime. And the Tolbert signing does increase the possibility that it might be sooner rather than later.