Whenever we consider trading an important player (like Jonathan Stewart), we should always consider the consequences. If we expect a positive consequence out of trading Stewart, then we should be expecting an improvement in some other area of our team (like our defense), right?
I was reading Sammy Brown's article, "2012 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers Must Trade Up or Down," and Brown suggested that the Panthers should trade with the Philadelphia Eagles so that the Panthers would be able to get a second-round pick in order to obtain Dre Kirkpatrick.
I thought this proposal was definitely better than the alternatives—either trading Stewart to the Cleveland Browns for their fourth-round pick and/or (as Brown proposed) trading the Panthers' first-round pick and next year's second-round pick for the Rams' No. 6 overall pick in order to get Morris Claiborne. Both of these options are really interesting, in my opinion.
Nonetheless, the main reason why I think Brown’s proposals are better than ones that propose trading Stewart is because Stewart is too important to the Panthers' offense.
With that said, the Panthers can’t trade Stewart.
As a Panthers fan, I'm definitely in favor of finding ways to improve any area of our team that needs improvement (especially the defense). On the other hand, by improving one area of the team, the Panthers might find themselves losing strength in another area of the team—the offense.
So what could exactly happen to the Panthers offense if they lost Stewart?
The difficult part about asking this question is that we are so used to having Stewart around that we can’t picture what our season would look like without him.
There was a season (in 2010) where DeAngelo Williams was injured for a portion of the year. In that particular season, Mike Goodson and Stewart combined for 1635 rushing and passing yards.
The following season, Williams and Stewart combined for 2145 total rushing and passing yards.
Stewart averages 875 rushing yards per season. And when our season last year struggled a bit with our running game, Stewart switched gears and put up 413 passing yards.
I actually had to check these numbers twice because they were difficult to accept at first. With all the attention on Cam Newton, we tend to forget what all the other players (except maybe Steve Smith) are doing.
Anyway, what do those numbers have in common? They show just how reliable Stewart is (with or without Williams in the mix). Although Williams and Stewart make the Panthers' run game even more dynamic, it seems quite unreasonable to think the offense will be just as good without Stewart.
If the offense for the most part stays the same as last season, then the offense will hopefully be better than last season’s (Cam Newton will improve and so will the players around him). The offensive players will begin to understand Chudzinksi's playbook more and even become a little more comfortable with it. And that would be amazing considering how great the offense was last season.
This only means that even slight improvement could go a long way for the Panthers.
And if my memory serves me correctly, last season the Panthers lost six of their games by only one score. Imagine the impact that a slight improvement on offense (with some significant improvements of defense) would have.
Trading Stewart, in my opinion, is an act of desperation and I don’t think the Panthers are desperate. There are even reasons to be optimistic about the Panthers defense for next season and how it will, in fact, be an improvement from last season’s.
The Panthers are getting Jon Beason and Thomas Davis back. They have also signed Reggie Smith and Haruki Nakamura to compete against Sharrod Martin and Charles Godfrey for the safety position. They re-signed Antwan Applewhite among other signings that we won’t know how effective they were until the season starts. And last but not least, our projected draft picks are all (if not, most) are aimed at improving the defense.
Like I said, given our performance last season, a slight improvement can go a long way. But one thing seems pretty clear—Jonathan Stewart is really good for Carolina.