Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 6/8/12

The NFL offseason will always be filled with news. The media feasts on any and all NFL stories, which, unfortunately, can mean a summer full of stories about Tim Tebow’s eating habits or Peyton Manning’s new Denver home. The Panthers were not immune from “non-story” offseason stories. Cam Newton almost made the cover of the Madden video game. Jon Beason got in a twitter war with Alex Smith, or all people. Cam has eaten more locker room orange Gatorade cubes than I can count. The Panthers have certainly made headlines, but not the kind that will affect, you know, the team.

One piece of Panther news that got swept under the media rug this offseason was the signing of running back/full back Mike Tolbert. Tolbert, a former San Diego Charger, took less money to sign with the Carolina Panthers in order to once again live in the Southeast. The running back is a native of Georgia and went to school at Coastal Carolina, so his eagerness to get out of San Diego is understood. Tolbert is a solid player, a good goal line runner who is also capable of opening holes up the middle from the full back position. He can do a little bit of everything, as evidenced by his 54 catches in 2011 and superb special teams play. He is the prototypical running full back, and should be a welcome addition to the Panther’s squad.

Still, Tolbert is more of a role player than an impact guy. In fact, if it wasn’t for fantasy football or Ryan Matthew’s injury history, most football fans outside of San Diego never would have heard of Tolbert. So what was so important about Tolbert’s signing this offseason? 

Signing another running back likely means that Richardson & Co are ready to get rid of one of the incumbents. It has been rumored for a while that the Panthers have little interest in keeping both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield for the remainder of their careers, but the team’s actions have never given any validity to those rumors. Until now. While the Panthers continue to give no indication that they are willing to trade one of their franchise backs, it is not often that teams will give 4-year, $10 million deals to third team running backs. It would appear that the team plans to give more than just the occasional carry to Tolbert. 

This move likely means a season full of trade rumors involving Jonathan Stewart. While Stewart is arguably the better of the two backs, the Panthers will have a much easier time moving Stewart than they will moving Williams. Williams still has four years left on his $43 million deal, which coupled with his injury history makes him an unlikely risk for another team to acquire. That leaves Stewart drawing the short straw, and the Panthers down a productive runner and fan favorite. 

Stewart is just beginning what could be an extremely productive career. For his career, he has averaged 4.8 yards a carry and 8.7 yards per reception. Last season he had 47 receptions, an outstanding number for a running back who splits time. Stewart seemed to have improved every year of his 4-year career, leading many experts to believe he is capable of becoming a top 5 back in the NFL if he were to be given a starting role to himself. Panther fans have seen flashes of brilliance from Stewart; flashes that will only get better with time. Let’s hope the Panthers make the right move and keep all three of these guys going forward. As they say, three heads are better than two.   

Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.

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