Mike Tolbert is the Carolina Panthers new starting fullback. I can’t remember who their old starting fullback was, except that it was not Brad Hoover. Last season a fullback was as essential as a rotary phone.
The beauty of the offense is that it is not static. Rules are few, options many. The quarterback catches passes, receivers throw passes and on third and long offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski does not feel obligated to call a draw play.
Last season tight end Greg Olsen or Jeremy Shockey often lined up in the backfield. Tolbert, 26, might not have their soft hands, but he is a good receiver who blocks, excels on special teams and can run. He’s also 5-9 and 243 pounds. Although he’s not as wide as he is tall, he’s close.
I like the idea of a player with Tolbert’s skills sliding into the flat or secondary and offering Cam Newton one more option. One of the best moves the Panthers made last season was to provide Newton two veteran tight ends. On most passing plays, they were the receivers closest to the rookie quarterback, and they eased his transition to the NFL.
Tolbert is from Douglasville, Ga., suburban Atlanta, not far from Cam Newton turf. He played at Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach and in 2007 averaged almost seven yards a carry.
Never drafted, he signed with San Diego as a free agency and has played all four of his NFL seasons there. In 2010 he rushed for a career high 735 yards. Last season, he rushed for 490 yards, caught passes for a career-high 433, scored 10 touchdowns and tied for the team lead with 12 special-teams tackles. He was a part-time starter at running back.
The Panthers signed Tolbert, free agent, to a four-year contract. They now have less flexibility under the salary cap. But they have more flexibility if they choose to make a trade.
Last season Carolina gave tailback DeAngelo Williams a five-year $43-million contract, with $21 million guaranteed. The Panthers said they wanted to retain their playmakers. They were willing to overpay, and they did.
Williams has been very good for Carolina, especially after he adjusted to Chudzinski’s unconventional offense. Even if the Panthers wanted to trade him – and a Panther source insists they aren’t shopping Williams or Jonathan Stewart – the heft of Williams’ contract would make him tough to trade.
Stewart, however, is in the final season of the relatively inexpensive five-year deal he signed as a rookie. The Panthers like him very much. But if they offer Stewart the money they offered Williams they’ll have to insist that he also play linebacker. No team can devote such a large piece of the salary cap to one position.
Will Stewart demand $43 million?
If the Panthers don’t think they can retain Stewart, they might not shop him. But they certainly would entertain offers. They’d have to. If so, Tolbert enables them to.
I assume the addition of Tolbert means Mike Goodson will be so far out of the rotation he’ll be off the roster.
This leaves three quality backs, one football and a quarterback who would rather run the ball into the end zone than hand it off.
Tolbert will not be content to block. Almost no back is content to block. Even Hoover, the best fullback Carolina ever had, saw himself as a tailback out of position.
Chudzinski was remarkably creative last season. If the Panthers retain Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. he’ll have to be even more creative to keep them happy.