NFL Rumors: Panthers' Addition of Mike Tolbert Makes Jonathan Stewart Expendable

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Jonathan Stewart's days as a member of the Carolina Panthers may be numbered now that Mike Tolbert is off the market.

The Panthers signed the former San Diego Chargers star to a four-year deal on Monday, thereby giving them three well-paid running backs, alongside DeAngelo Williams and Stewart. Williams got his money last year when Carolina signed him for five years and $53 million.

That leaves Stewart, whose rookie contract will be up after the 2012 season, as the presumed odd man out. With so much money tied up in Tolbert and Williams for the next four years—and so many needs across their roster—the Panthers wouldn't exactly be wise to splash the cash at Stewart, especially given his history of injuries and the dime-a-dozen nature of the position he plays.

Not that Stewart isn't worth the financial commitment based on his productivity. The Oregon alum has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the course of his four-year NFL career, though only once has he had the opportunity to carry the ball more than 200 times in a single season.

The results? 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Surely, someone will take a chance on Stewart if and when he hits free agency given his track record of racking up yardage whenever he's had the chance.

In the meantime, the Panthers appear unlikely to part ways with Stewart before they have to, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. With Stewart, Tolbert and Williams scampering behind Cam Newton, Carolina should once again sport one of the NFL's most productive (and most versatile) rushing attacks.

And, with a few (significant) upgrades to their defense, the Panthers may well be in the running for a playoff berth during Ron Rivera's second season in Charlotte.