Jonathan Stewart released by Panthers, but their plan at running back is clear
The Carolina Panthers signaled they were going in a new direction at running back last year when they drafted Christian McCaffrey. Yet, it’s somewhat surprising they released veteran Jonathan Stewart, who’s been with the team for the past 10 seasons.
The Panthers signed Stewart to a one-year, $8 million contract extension last year that would presumably keep him in the fold through the 2018 season.
Stewart carried a $5.2 million cap hit this year, and the Panthers were projected to have just over $20 million in cap to work with in 2018. They’ll save over $3.7 million and just hold onto $1.5 million in dead money to move on from an aging Stewart and commit to McCaffrey as the new full-time starter.
Why did the Panthers cut Stewart?
Stewart was the team’s leading rusher last season, and he racked up almost 250 yards more than McCaffrey did in his rookie season. But he’s on the wrong side of 30, the Panthers don’t have a ton of money to work with, and the cost to keep Stewart around this year exceeds the potential benefits of keeping him on the roster.
What’s next for Stewart?
Stewart has been a Panther since 2008, when Carolina selected him in the first round of that year’s draft. He’s struggled to stay healthy over his career, playing all 16 games just three times and not reaching 1,000 yards since 2009. Stewart missed three games to injury in three straight seasons.
He’s been a reliable player when healthy, but the Panthers had a hard time counting on him in recent years. Hence, they’re going with the younger and faster McCaffrey, who was taken with the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft. McCaffrey didn’t blow it out of the water in his rookie season, with 435 yards and two touchdowns. But new offensive coordinator Norv Turner could create some more opportunities for the second-year playmaker with Stewart out of the picture.
Despite his age (he turns 31 years old in March) and long injury history, Stewart can be a productive runner between the tackles and still has something to offer in a committee role. It might not be long before he finds another team.