It would be easy to look at the Carolina Panthers' decision to extend running Jonathan Stewart Saturday with a sense of confusion.
If you include Stewart's new deal, the Panthers have now spent over $90 million over the last 12 months on running back position. That kind of monetary allotment doesn't mean this is a bad deal for Carolina, however.
Looking deeper into the contracts may show why the deal is actually a smart move for GM Marty Hurney.
First, the basics.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Stewart was extended for $36.5 million over five years, with the ceiling of the contract at $42.5 million and $22.5 million in guarantees.
Last summer, the Panthers locked up DeAngelo Williams with a five-year, $43 million deal that included $21 million in guarantees. In March, former San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert signed in Carolina for four years and $8.4 million. That deal included $2.7 million in guarantees.
But let's look at the guaranteed money for both Williams and Tolbert.
Williams, 29, received $16 million of his $21 million guaranteed in the form of signing bonus. The last $5 million comes as a part of Williams' 2012 base salary. The synopsis here: Williams is owed zero guaranteed money after the 2012 season.
Tolbert, 26, is in the same boat.
He received $2 million of his guaranteed cash as a signing bonus, and all $700,000 of his 2012 base salary is guaranteed. After this next season, he's owed nothing in terms of guaranteed money.
Williams could either be asked to restructure his deal following this season or risk not being in Carolina beyond 2012. At 30 years old next summer, he may find it difficult to obtain a worthwhile deal if the Panthers let him go. The leverage could be in place for a team-friendly restructure.
Tolbert has a $1.5 million option bonus due for 2013, so Carolina will have to make a decision on him after this season too. It's possible the Panthers could let Tolbert go if he's a disappointment in 2012.
There's also the fact that Stewart, 25, was scheduled to be a free agent next summer.
If the Panthers were forced into letting Williams go at some point, the team could be without both backs if Stewart decided to leave Carolina. Saturday's extension ensures that the Panthers will have at least one legitimate running back option for the next several years.
On the surface, it's easy to question this extension. A lot of money has been put into the language of the last three deals Hurney handed out to running backs.
But Hurney hasn't back himself in a corner monetarily, and there's now a safeguard in place at a position that is still very important to the Panthers offense. By next summer, he may look a lot smarter for having done this deal.
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