Jonathan Stewart could be smiling with a new contract if the Panthers find a trade partner for his services
Len Pasquarelli of the Sports XChange gives us a report that could cause ripples in the draft:
The Panthers definitely will listen to offers for (RB Jonathan) Stewart. But there hasn't been anything serious yet. How do we know?
Stewart is entering the final season of his rookie contract, no team will deal for him simply to rent him for a season, so an extension will be necessary. And no club has yet spoken to Stewart or his agent about an add-on. Because of coach John Fox's familiarity with Stewart, everyone is making Denver the favorite.
But don't rule out a few other clubs, including a sleeper like Pittsburgh, where the suggestion is that Rashard Mendenhall might not be sufficiently recovered from the ACL injury sustained in the 2011 season finale to play in 2012.
This wouldn't change the Panthers draft plans at all, as they recently signed Mike Tolbert, and also have Mike Goodson under contract. Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reported after Tolbert's signing that a trade of Stewart was "unlikely" according to multiple team sources.
He did, however, add on Twitter that same day that they would listen to offers, as Pasquarelli has reported. The Panthers may be more inclined to listen to offers because they are missing the third round pick they dealt for Greg Olsen last year, although they would likely recoup a third or fourth-round compensatory pick for Stewart if he left in free agency next year.
If Stewart is traded, that could cause second-tier backs like Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Miami's (FL) Lamar Miller, Boise State's Doug Martin, and Washington's Chris Polk to fall even further, potentially even into the third round.
Pasquarelli mentions the Broncos because of the John Fox connection, and their need for a long term starting running back and "win now" sense of urgency only helps that case.
The Broncos also just got an extra fourth-round pick for Tim Tebow, so they may see their draft capital as even more expendable.
The Steelers are less likely in light of GM Kevin Colbert's comments that the team may not need another running back, and the likelihood that they would have to use what little cap room they have to sign Stewart to a long-term deal.
Potential suitors for Stewart will have to weigh the reality of a lot of guaranteed money and likely a second- or third-round pick lost to get him, versus the option of using a second-round pick on a comparable talent like Martin.
I would bet against Stewart playing anywhere but Carolina this year.