Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart makes his offseason home in Charlotte and has developed a lot of friendships during his first four seasons with the team.
But Stewart’s reason for wanting to re-sign with the Panthers is even simpler.
“We’re good,” Stewart said Thursday morning.
With a top-10 offense adding a couple of new wrinkles and several injured starters returning on defense, Stewart – like a lot of other Carolina players and fans – believes the Panthers are on the cusp of something special.
And Stewart, who is entering the final year of his contract, wants to remain a part of it.
“There’s no reason why I would want to leave as of now,” Stewart said. “With that being said, I’m a Panther and I intend on being one.”
Since joining the Panthers as a first-round pick from Oregon in 2008, Stewart has combined with friend and teammate DeAngelo Williams to form the Panthers’ so-called “Double Trouble” backfield tandem.
Williams, the franchise’s career rushing leader, signed a huge deal last summer worth $43 million over five years.
Stewart, who at 25 is four years younger than Williams, will be eligible for free agency in 2013. Williams’ deal could make it tough for the Panthers to keep both backs.
When the Panthers signed free-agent fullback Mike Tolbert during the offseason, it prompted speculation that Stewart might be on the trading block. And while general manager Marty Hurney did not shop Stewart, the addition of Tolbert serves as an insurance policy in the event the Panthers can’t re-sign Stewart.
All of which, Stewart says, is beyond his control.
“I’m not an agent. I’m not a GM. I’m not an owner. I’m not a coach. I’m a player,” Stewart said. “So what a player does is prepare himself to play football games. So no matter what happens, I’m ready.”
Stewart joined Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, Dallas running back Felix Jones and Washington linebacker London Fletcher on an NFL panel Thursday at a basketball camp hosted by Charlotte Bobcats President Fred Whitfield at Ardrey Kell.
Stewart then played in the charity golf tournament connected with the camp. Before teeing off, Stewart thanked Panthers coach Ron Rivera for a putting tip Rivera gave him.
Rivera raved about Stewart’s physical conditioning and talked about the Panthers’ loaded backfield.
“It’s a huge plus for us. I think with the versatility we have with those backs and the combination of backs, we can be really good,” Rivera said. “It’s just a matter of everybody staying healthy more so than anything else. And the most important thing is for us to mature and grow as a football team.”
Both Stewart and Williams saw their carries decrease last season with the arrival of quarterback Cam Newton, the team’s third-leading rusher with 706 yards on 126 attempts. The carries will be divided four ways this season with the addition of Tolbert.
“We’ve got a lot of options. That’s one thing I think defenses are going to have to worry about,” Stewart said. “Just knowing when to key and what to key, it’s going to be defenses pretty much lining up and letting their luck play out dealing with us.”
But how will Stewart and Williams deal with the prospect of sharing touches? Stewart, who will make about $1.3 million this year, said the most productive backs would be rewarded.
“You’re a football player. When your number’s called, you respond. That’s just the way it’s always been,” Stewart said. “If you respond in a way where it’s working, you roll with that package.”
Stewart believes the Panthers, who had the third-best rushing attack last season with 150.5 yards a game, can roll with it all the way to the postseason.
“I definitely think we’re playoff-bound,” Stewart said. “We’ve just got to make things happen.”
And then see what happens in the offseason.