With DeAngelo Williams Shouldering Load, Panthers Must Trade Jonathan Stewart

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With DeAngelo Williams Shouldering Load, Panthers Must Trade Jonathan Stewart
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Don’t look now, but Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams looks like he’s four, maybe five years younger. No, he didn’t find a fountain of youth, nor does Williams physically look like he’s getting younger.

But his stat line sure is starting to look like it’s 2008 or 2009.

Through five games Williams has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and is on pace for 1,260 yards on 291 carries. It’s been five years since Williams has touched the rock that much and four since he’s blown past the 1,000-yard plateau.

Carolina RBs: 2008 & '09 vs. 2013
DeAngelo Williams Jonathan Stewart
2008 273 carries, 1,515 yards | 22 receptions 184 carries, 836 yards | 8 receptions
2009 216 carries, 1,117 yards | 29 receptions 221 carries, 1,133 yards | 18 receptions
2013 91 carries, 394 yards | 11 receptions PUP List
2013 (pace) 291 carries, 1,260 yards | 35 receptions N/A

ESPN

Williams isn’t working as efficiently—his per-carry average is about a full yard below his output from four to five years ago—but with the extra carries he’s getting because running back Jonathan Stewart hasn’t returned from an ankle injury yet, Williams is showing he can still be the bell cow in the Panthers backfield.

David Newton, of ESPN, wrote about how Williams is turning everyone’s head with his pass-catching skills too, and quarterback Cam Newton seems to be enjoying Williams’ resurgence as a receiver:

Something that went unnoticed in this game was the unbelievable play by DeAngelo. Even though he didn't have 100 yards rushing, his execution or his performance in the pass game was excellent. He was catching passes that weren't accurate at all in my book.

But ... he made catches to put us in second-and-4, second-and-6. That can obviously go unnoticed as a fan watching the game. If he continues to play like that, we'll be all right.

Williams has never been the sole running back in Carolina’s backfield. After being drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, Williams was the No. 2 option to DeShaun Foster. Then Carolina drafted Stewart in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and replaced Foster with the Oregon star.

Williams went from No. 2 to No. 1 in 2008 and then to No. 1b in 2009. Outside of injuries—and both Carolina running backs have spent their fair share of time on the training table—Williams has never been the lone running back option for the Panthers.

Carolina RBs: Workload from 2006 to 2013
DeAngelo Williams DeShaun Foster Jonathan Stewart Mike Tolbert
2006 121 carries (31.1% 227 carries (58.4%)
2007 144 carries (35.5%) 247 carries (60.8%)
2008 273 carries (65.8%) 184 carries (44.3%)
2009 216 carries (44%) 221 carries (45%)
2010 87 carries (30.2%) 178 carries (61.8%)
2011 155 carries (50.7%) 142 carries (46.4%)
2012 173 carries (53.6%) 93 carries (23.8%) 54 carries (16.7%)
2013 91 carries (74.6%) 31 carries (25.4%)

ESPN

It’s time that he was handed the job of featured back.

Stewart said Monday that he may need a couple more weeks before he’s ready to play, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer:

According to Person, Stewart hasn’t practiced at all this week, and if the “a couple weeks” timetable is at all accurate, it may be November before Stewart hits the field.

While adding Stewart to the mix could be beneficial to the Carolina running game, it may be overkill. The amount of money spent on the combined contracts of the duo is definitely overkill.

Between Williams and running back Mike Tolbert—after you add in Newton’s 153 yards from the quarterback position—the Panthers rank seventh in the league in rushing yards per game with 135.8. Is adding Stewart to the group going to bolster those numbers that much, or will it just spell Williams and cut into his carries?

According to Spotrac, Williams’ five-year deal and Stewart’s six-year contract are worth a combined $81.3 million. Even with both healthy in the backfield, Carolina isn’t going to get that kind of value.

Senior NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt offered up the New York Giants as a win-win trade partner for Stewart. The Giants would get a desperately needed running back, while Hakeem Nicks could finally be that No. 2 receiver Carolina has long needed.

What should the Panthers do with Jonathan Stewart when he's healthy?

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In today’s pass-happy NFL, it makes a ton of sense to add a receiving threat to Newton’s arsenal. And as Williams has shown, he can handle the burden of being the featured back.

General manager Dave Gettleman would absolutely love to shed all or a portion of Stewart’s contract. The money spent on Williams and Stewart by the previous regime in Carolina is clogging the system. Until the Panthers get out from under those poorly written contracts, this team won’t be truly able to put all the pieces together for a strong Super Bowl run.

And when Williams is unable to continue as Carolina’s feature back—don’t forget Williams turned 30 back in April—Gettleman can figure out what to do with the remaining money owed to Williams (another reason why trading Stewart makes sense—Williams’ contract is up much earlier than Stewart’s) and move on. That could mean bringing in younger, less expensive talent at running back and spending money elsewhere, like on the offensive line, the secondary or at receiver.

It may have been the elephant in the room, but it’s never been a secret that the Panthers were eventually going to have to deal harshly with the contract situation at running back former general manager Marty Hurney got this Carolina franchise into. Heck, it was likely one of the interview questions Gettleman and the other job candidates had to field prior to getting the gig in Charlotte.

Williams, with his inspired play this season while Stewart has been on the PUP list, might just make Gettleman’s decision, and course of action, much easier.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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