Many assumed that Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart would be on the trading block after the team signed free agent bruiser Mike Tolbert to a four-year contract this offseason.
However, despite signing Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams (5-year $43 million) to long-term contracts, it appears that the Panthers aren’t interested in dealing Stewart this season.
Stewart, 25, isn’t interested in leaving either – even with a crowded backfield and limited touches. In fact, he would prefer to stay in Carolina for the foreseeable future.
“I definitely hope things work out,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “I want to be back. I think we have a lot of weapons on offense and we can be a dangerous team.”
Stewart, whose contract expires at the end of the 2012 season, will become a highly sought-after free agent in 2013 if he doesn’t sign an extension with Carolina.
Admirably, money doesn’t seem to be an issue with the former Oregon Duck, who has played all of his four NFL seasons with the Panthers.
Stewart is set to make just $1.3 million this season, a modest salary for a durable, productive running back – and significantly less than DeAngelo Williams (who he has been arguably more productive than).
Last season, Stewart carried the ball 142 times for 761 yards and four touchdowns. He also emerged as a capable receiver out of the backfield, hauling in 47 passes for 413 yards and one touchdown.
Contract talks aside, No. 28 should contribute mightily to the Panthers’ three-headed running attack this upcoming season. The trio of Stewart, Williams and Tolbert – along with Cam Newton, of course – could very well be the NFL’s best rushing offense in 2012.
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