The Carolina Panthers have signed their last remaining unsigned draft pick. Running back Jonathan Stewart signed a five-year deal with the Panthers early Saturday morning. The contract guarantees $10.8 million and could be worth as much as $20 million.
Stewart, Carolina's first first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft (13th overall), was just barely signed soon enough to be present for the team's first training camp practice Saturday morning. If he had waited any longer to agree to a contract, his situation would have prolonged into a holdout.
Head coach John Fox says Stewart has fully recovered from off-season toe surgery and is playing again for the first time since November 2007 when he originally suffered his injury. As is customary, the Panthers' coaching staff will be careful with Stewart; he will only partake in practice per day, similar to wide-out DJ Hackett and offensive tackle Jeff Otah, who are also only required to practice once per day because they spent their off-seasons rehabbing injuries.
Stewart did well overall, but he needs to adjust to the aspects of the NFL that are different from college ball. Stewart said of the change after he dropped a screen pass, "I kind of thought about running before I caught the ball. It's a change of speed compared from college to the NFL. I've just got to get the hang of that.”
Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, a first-round pick in 2006, should make for a great rushing tandem. Stewart is a dynamic power back with the speed to break a long run and the muscles to grind out a first down on third-and-1. Stewart will likely get the majority of the carries. Williams will be a nice complement and change of pace to Stewart's game with his elusiveness and break-away speed.