The bracing news that DeAngelo Williams has been placed on injured reserve due to his foot injury -- ending his 2010 season abruptly with a meager 361 yards -- leaves a huge question.
Is DeAngelo done as a Panther?
I hope not. Although Carolina has a plethora of good running backs -- Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton among them -- to me DeAngelo is still the best of the lot. None of those other guys have ever had the amazing sort of 1,500-yard, 18-TD season DeAngelo did in 2008. I think he's the Panthers' best combination of speed and power -- he has 31 career rushing TDs, after all, and a lot of those were inside the tackles. To call him purely an outside speed rusher is to do him an injustice.
But DeAngelo's contract runs out at the end of this season, which means the Panthers are going to have to pay him -- big-time -- to keep him. The average range for a back of DeAngelo's caliber probably approaches the $7-million-per-year range. Stewart is signed through 2012, on the other hand, and Goodson is also on his first contract and a pretty cheap alternative (i.e., Goodson is a poor man's version of DeAngelo).
DeAngelo had a subpar 2010 even before he got hurt -- he never had a single 100-yard rushing game -- but that goes for the entire Panther offense. Perhaps the injury will even be a mixed blessing, for it undoubtedly will cost DeAngelo some money (compared to if he came off another 1,500-yard, play-in-all-16-game season like 2008). Maybe the Panthers can receive a bit of a hometown discount bargain here -- DeAngelo has always seemed happy here and acted like he wants to stay long-term.
So again, I hope he hasn't played his last game here. Stewart was great at the end of 2009, but his 3.0 rushing average this season is a yard under DeAngelo's, and he is never 100 percent health-wise. That's not his fault, but that's the truth.
The Panthers have been saving money all year. So who else are they going to spend it on if not for guys like DeAngelo, a proven commodity who is still only 27 years old? Fix his foot and sign him to another contract.