Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera was recently quoted on ESPN’s Insiders as saying the offense has to get Jonathan Stewart “rolling” and that “our primary runner cannot be our quarterback.” Many are assuming that by mentioning the soon to be 30-year-old RB by name, it’s a strong indication that Stewart will be returning in 2017. However, from a financial standpoint, the Panthers may be better off with a change.
With many teams hoping to solve their salary cap problems, some major players could be cut during this offseason as we lead up to the NFL Draft. There is a high number of skilled players available in this years draft class, which could force the hand of many NFL clubs to get younger.[the_ad id=”63198″]ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton said he “could see a scenario” where Carolina releases Jonathan Stewart this offseason. JStew’s contract is tricky as it seems the team will save more money if they wait until June 1st. Currently, Stewart’s 2017 cap figure number appears to be $8.25M ($3.5M dead cap) but the team would save $4.75M if they release him before June 1st, and $6.25M if they release him after.
Stewart has missed three games in each of his last three seasons and has only played one full season since 2011. The nine-year pro did find the end zone more in 2016 than he his previous six seasons, punching in nine rushing scores, but his yards per carry average dropped last year, and there is a growing concern about the increase in fumbles over the last few years. As previously mentioned, Stewart will be 30 in late March, and the team could cut him and use the money to focus on upgrading their wide receiver depth while making the running back position a top priority in the first or second round of the NFL Draft.
Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne are currently the two running backs behind Stewart on the Depth Chart. Both players are serviceable NFL backups but aren’t exactly waiting to breakout. Both RB’s are over 25 years old and are complementary players who can help add reliable depth.
The Panthers hold the 8th overall pick in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. Many mock drafts have RB Leonard Fournette projected to be gone before the Panthers pick, however, Pro Football Focus thinks the LSU stud RB will slip into the teens. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers handle their upcoming first round pick as they do have offensive needs at the Wide Reciever and the Running Back position. It’s likely their draft board will be shaped based on their success or failure in luring in replacements through NFL free agency, but considering the team will save an extra $2 Million by waiting to cut JStew after June 1st, it’s my firm belief they hold off until after the NFL draft to decide.
Tell Me More About RB Leonard Fournette
At 6-foot-1, 230lbs, Fournette seems like the perfect replacement to fill Jonathan Stewart shoes. Fournette runs angry; he’s a punishing back that isn’t afraid to churn out extra yards or lower his pads and run someone over. He has decent hands out of the backfield and provides a possible true three-down back for whatever team that drafts him. Fournette is one year removed from leading the nation with 83 missed tackles forced in 2015.
An ankle injury caused Fournette to miss some time in 2016, which resulted in lowering his carries in 2016. However, the shortened season could be a blessing in disguise, as some were worried about his rather large workload entering last season.
I haven’t completed my 2017 NFL Mock Draft just yet, but I currently have Leonard Fournette penciled in 8th overall to the Panthers.