The NFL free agency pot is boiling these days, with Peyton Manning apparently headed to Denver to play for John Fox and Tim Tebow likely to be traded. That's huge news nationally, and I'm going to blog about it soon.
The big news locally, though, is the signing of running back Mike Tolbert, a former Coastal Carolina back whose 5-9, 243-pound build has long been compared to a bowling ball. His agent Joel Turner said Tolbert wanted to join the Panthers so badly he "left over a million on the table" to come to Charlotte.
Tolbert will join a crowded backfield that, for now, includes DeAngelo Williams (signed to a huge contract last year), Jonathan Stewart (entering the final year of his contract) and Mike Goodson (who fell out of favor last season and looks very expendable). Tolbert will apparently be a fullback, first and foremost, along with a special-teams player.
The Panthers use Cam Newton as a virtual running back at times, too, especially near the goal line. So can they afford another huge investment in Stewart, who will likely want DeAngelo money (a reported five years and $43 million) and will get it somewhere? Stewart is under contract this year but becomes a free agent in 2013.
I think this is a good move for the Panthers -- Tolbert will shore up the special teams, is versatile and is generally a good utility guy who played collegiately at Coastal Carolina. Panthers GM Marty Hurney called Tolbert a "very versatile player" in a statement.
Tolbert tied for the Chargers' team lead last year with 12 special-teams tackles and also led San Diego with eight rushing TDs. He's got a nose for the end zone, with 26 career TDs despite rarely starting.
If the Panthers can keep "Double Trouble" together along with Tolbert, more power to them. We've seen over and over how well Stewart and Williams work together. Tolbert certainly sounds like he won't mind blocking for either one of them when the Panthers get in a two-back set.
But can the Panthers afford to keep Stewart after this season? Maybe not. Two huge contracts is an awful lot to invest in the position when there are many times that Stewart or Williams only carries the ball 10 or so times per game.
With that being said, if rumors that DeAngelo or Stewart are on the trading block were true (the Panthers don't comment on trade rumors) would not surprise me at all.
But it also would surprise me if either was ultimately traded -- the NFL, for various reasons, makes far fewer trades than, say, the NBA.
If Stewart is traded, he would have to sign a new contract extension with the new team -- nobody would want to trade some significant assets for him and then risk losing him after a year (much like Greg Olsen did with Carolina). If Williams is traded, another team would have to assume a huge contract, which also can be problematic.
If there are no trade takers -- and either Stewart or DeAngelo, to me, would be worth a No.1 pick at the least -- then you could at least pair them together one more time for the 2012 season and just see what develops. The Panthers have one more year of Stewart at a cheap rate, so they don't have to make any immediate decisions about this.
But ultimately, Double Trouble is going to have to end sometime. Nothing lasts forever. And given Tolbert's versatility -- he's a fine insurance policy at several positions -- this does increase the possibility that it might be sooner rather than later.
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