Carolina Panthers

Why the Panthers’ extension of RB Jonathan Stewart is doubly important

The Carolina Panthers have extended the contract of veteran running back Jonathan Stewart (28) through the 2018 season.
The Carolina Panthers have extended the contract of veteran running back Jonathan Stewart (28) through the 2018 season. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Carolina Panthers keep making the right moves in free agency.

On Friday, the team announced the one-year extension of running back Jonathan Stewart, locking him in through 2018.

“We’re excited about it,” said Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, speaking to a small media gathering later Friday morning. “A couple of weeks ago I sat back and watched every single one of his carries and touches and he’s still playing at a very high level. We looked at his numbers the last three years and he’s been over 800 (yards) all three years.”

Stewart, 30, has battled injuries often throughout his lengthy career but rushed for 824 yards and nine touchdowns last season and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2015.

Stewart’s age was not a factor in the decision, Gettleman said.

“I’m old-fashioned,” he said. “I believe in the tape, I believe in what I see. I know what I see with Jonathan.”

It’s was a double-win for the Panthers to get this deal done with their lead back.

First, Stewart’s cap hit in 2017 would have been $8.25 million, but the extension reduces that number.

Second, it means that Stewart will be around to usher in the new generation Carolina running backs, which could start with this year’s draft. Gettleman did not rule out drafting a running back high on Friday, and indicated strongly at the NFL scouting combine in early March that the team would definitely pick a back in this draft.

Stewart gives the team some security in case they don’t make the move many pundits suggest and draft star rusher Leonard Fournette – or if Fournette is selected before the Panthers pick at No. 8.

The Panthers can also consider a running-back-by-committee system featuring Stewart and a lower-ranked running back.

Stewart was not made available for comment to external media, but told the Panthers’ team site that he would welcome another running back to the room.

“You always want fresh legs. Fresh legs mean a lot, especially in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Having somebody potentially come in here … there are a lot of good running backs in this draft class, a lot of talent. Definitely open arms to get somebody in here that wants to win and understands that. We’re better as a fist than we are as an open hand.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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