Panthers' Extension of Jonathan Stewart Continues Curious Trend in Carolina

Aaron Nagler@Aaron_NaglerNFL National Lead WriterAugust 12, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 30: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers carries the ball against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium on October 30, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers are planning on going back to the Wing-T. 

Or so one would think, judging by the way their general manager hands out owner Jerry Richardson's money.  

The Carolina Panthers announced yesterday that they had signed running back Jonathan Stewart to a five-year contract extension worth a reported $36.5 million and could reach a maximum of $42.5 million, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. It includes $22.5 million guaranteed.

This comes roughly one year after general manager Martey Hurney forked over a five-year, $43 million contract with $21 million guaranteed for Stewart's backfield running mate, DeAngelo Williams. 

As if that wasn't enough money tied up in the running-back position, Hurney has also thrown in a four-year, $8.4 million contract with $2.7 million guaranteed for glorified fullback Mike Tolbert. 

Has anyone told Hurney he has Cam Newton at quarterback?

Look, I get it. Hurney wants to reward the guys he has on hand while drafting and developing around Newton. It's a fine plan. But it shouldn't call for the team's financial resources to be heavily tilted toward a position group that the modern game has made into an afterthought. 

Think that's harsh? Look at the list of Super Bowl winners from the last decade, and show me the team that had what would be considered a "star" running back—let alone two of them. 

The game has changed. You need to be able to throw the ball, protect the passer, get to the passer and defend the pass. It's that simple.

The Panthers have the quarterback. They have one of the best receivers in the game in Steve Smith, who is, unfortunately, nearing the end of his career. Other than those two components, the Panthers have lots of question marks in their passing game. 

Obviously, spending money on your own guys sends a good message to the locker room. But sometimes Hurney's loyalty can backfire, as it did when he handed Jake Delhomme one of the most ill-advised contracts in league history. 

Yes, the Delhomme situation was special and complicated, but there was absolutely no reason for Hurney to pay Delhomme when he did just as there is zero reason to pay Stewart now. Yes, he is arguably the more talented of the two lead backs in Carolina. If that is the case, why on Earth was Williams given the contract he was?

It reeks of rewarding guys for what they've done rather than for paying them for expected production, which is how smart general managers operate. 

The Panthers have lots of options in the backfield heading into the season. Too bad it's 2012 and not 1986.