This past Tuesday the NFL unveiled the new Nike uniforms for all 32 teams. Most all looked about the same, except for the Seattle Seahawks and our own Carolina Panthers. The new logo is featured, as well as the words, “Keep Pounding” embroidered in the neck line. It was great to see the new look, but what I kept wondering was whether we would see Stewart on a number 28 Panthers jersey this season.
Several weeks ago the Panthers signed former San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert, which seemed like a head-scratching move to me. We already have a stacked back field, and adding Tolbert seemed like we now have too many cooks in the kitchen. I am a big proponent of getting as many quality running backs as I can and keeping what I call a stable of them, but that is in my fantasy football league. This is not fantasy football, and quite frankly the running back position is not one I feel the Panthers needed to improve on. So with the addition of Tolbert, what does this mean for the rest of the Panthers running backs?
Mike Goodson was traded to the Oakland Raiders about a week ago. Not a surprising move since the addition of Tolbert. In the trade we received offensive lineman Bruce Campbell. This seems like a good move for both teams, giving the Panthers some needed depth on the O-line and giving Oakland a suitable back up for the injury-prone Darren McFadden. The Raiders also lost Michael Bush to Chicago in free agency, so this should be a great opportunity for Goodson to get some well-deserved playing time.
DeAngelo Williams will be heading into his second year of a five year $43 million contract. Williams will remain the number one running back after having 836 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. His numbers seem down after his back-to-back thousand yard seasons in 08 and 09, but in an offense that didn’t have to rely on the running game as much due to the addition of Cam Newton these are still impressive stats. A trade for D-Will seems unlikely at this point, but not inconceivable. If we traded him it would clear up some cap space on a huge contract that many believe is not the type of money Williams should be getting. I for one am a huge fan of DeAngelo and hope to see him play out the rest of his days here in Carolina.
That brings us to Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is heading into his last year of a contract, making him a free agent after this year. If we are to make a trade, Stewart seems like the likely candidate. Stewart finished last year with 761 yards and 4 touchdowns. Not as many yards as DeAngelo Williams, but he did have 413 yards catching compared to Williams’ 135. There were weeks where I thought Stewart looked like the better back, especially with his pass-catching ability in our pass-first offense. In comparison to both backs, Mike Tolbert finished last year with 490 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns and 433 yards receiving behind Ryan Matthews in San Diego. The glaring number here is the 433 yards receiving, which is comparable to Stewarts 413, meaning that the Panthers must believe that if we were to make a trade Tolbert would be able to fill the void Stewart would leave immediately. So it makes perfect sense for the Panthers to try to make a trade for Stewart and not lose him to free agency when his contract expires, as he most likely will want a huge contract.
With all that being said, who are some of the likely suitors for a trade? Well, the answer my friend is t that this point, before the draft in a few short weeks, half the league could be looking to improve at the running back position. The Giants could be a possible suitor, since coming off their Super Bowl winning season they released Brandon Jacobs, leaving a void at running back. The Panthers could perhaps trade Stewart for one of the defensive ends like Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora. This would improve both teams and free up space at positions where they seem to be stacked. Another dance partner could be Denver Broncos for their second round pick. We all know John Fox is both a fan of Stewart and Williams, so a possible trade with Denver seems very likely. The question is would Denver be able to give up enough to get him. The list for other teams in search of someone to fill in at running back goes on and on: Steelers, Packers, Colts, Bengals, Browns and Jets.
The Panthers insist that they are not looking to make a trade for Stewart, but I find this hard to believe. Of course there are lots of things Marty Hurney does that I find hard to believe, so if keeping all three backs on the roster is one of them I would be completely back-hand-across-the-face shocked. I really think Stewart is a great asset to the Panthers and would love to see him remain in the blue and black, but what it boils down to is putting the best possible team out there to give you the chance to win. With all the holes the Panthers have at other positions, I just find it staggering to think that we would sit on all that talent at running back without filling another need elsewhere. Only time will tell, and we may see more activity the closer we get to the draft.