Former Chargers running back Mike Tolbert signed with the Carolina Panthers this morning. You might have missed that as it happened a few minutes before the PeytonTebowAcolypse occurred.
You might recall that Carolina already has DeAngelo Williams, who they re-signed to a ridiculous contract last year (given his age and that they could have chosen to pay Jonathan Stewart instead) and also the former first rounder Stewart. Jonathan Stewart will be a free agent after this year, and in light of the money they have tied up in Williams and now Tolbert, there is no way they are re-signing him.
Stewart turns only 25 in three days, even though he will be entering his fifth season. His carries have been limited by playing with Williams. He’s battled some injury issues (though he has only missed two games) which have also limited his carries. However, a team acquiring Stewart is getting a back entering his three-year prime window.
I made a quick list of the teams that might have interest in Stewart as a lead back as part of a platoon in 2012, enough to give up a mid-2nd round to early 3rd round pick (I don’t see anyone giving up a first because you have to account for the cost of likely signing him to a longer deal).
That list includes Cleveland, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Denver, Pittsburgh (because of Mendenhall’s injury) and the Jets. Of course, one of those teams just made a pretty big offensive move without giving up draft picks, has the cap space to sign him, and has the need given the current roster. Oh, and the coach that drafted him in Carolina is now there.
The Denver Broncos may not be done. Willis McGahee turns 31 this year, and Knowshon Moreno was hurt again last year and has never really proven to be a back with star potential. If Denver is trying to recreate the model from late in Elway’s career, they want to give Peyton a strong back. I don’t see Stewart getting the 350 carries that teams were giving out a decade ago, but could he be a 18-20 carry guy for the next three years, with another back picking up 8 or so? Yes.
So, for Denver, giving up their mid-second round pick may be enough to bring a talented back who is still young enough to provide value for the rest of Manning’s career. Makes sense to me.
And it’s the only way the Tolbert signing in Carolina makes any sense.