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Panthers plan to keep DeAngelo Williams

By Joseph Person
jperson@charlotteobserver.com

INDIANAPOLIS The Panthers want to keep their highly-paid, backfield tandem intact.

Despite being about $10 million over the projected $122 million salary cap, the Panthers hope to keep both running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

Williams, 29, is due to make $5 million this year and a has a cap figure of $8.2 million.

The team believes it can retain Williams at his current numbers. But a restructuring is possible depending on the team's other moves prior to the March 12 start of the league year, the source said.

When the Panthers signed Stewart to a five-year, $36.5 million extension last August, there was speculation Carolina would not be able to afford both backs. Green Bay was among the teams who inquired about Williams before the trade deadline, but he remained in Charlotte and re-claimed his starting spot after Stewart went down with ankle issues.

Williams, the franchise rushing leader, rushed for 737 yards and five touchdowns last season. He ran for a club-record 210 yards in a Week 17 win at New Orleans.

Stewart, 25, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in January after missing seven games with issues with both ankles. He finished 2012 with 93 carries for 336 yards and a touchdown.

The Panthers signed free agent fullback Mike Tolbert to a four-year, $10 million deal last winter. Tolbert's seven rushing touchdowns and his 27 catches were the most among the team's backs.

Stewart's contract was recently re-worked to convert future option money into guaranteed base salaries, a move that was not made for cap purposes.

Asked this week at the scouting combine whether the Panthers could keep both Williams and Stewart, first-year general manager Dave Gettleman said: “Can we keep both of them? Again, decisions have to be made. I don't see why not.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera referred questions about the running backs to Gettleman.

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