Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman expects No. 8 overall draft pick Christian McCaffrey to have an immediate impact in the Carolina backfield complementing Stewart and Cam Newton, Bryan Strickland of the team's official website reports. Gettleman said he's particularly impressed by McCaffrey's vision and quickness while running between the tackles -- perhaps suggesting the rookie could be an immediate threat to usurp Stewart's role as the early-down workhorse. At the very least, McCaffrey figures to have a key role catching passes while also eating into some of Stewart's rushing workload. Despite signing a one-year extension this offseason, the 30-year-old running back could be forced into a complementary role. The extension did reduce his 2017 cap hit, which should keep his spot on the roster secure.
The Panthers signed Stewart to a one-year extension through 2018, the team's official website reports. Previously entering the final season of a five-year, $36.5 million contract he signed in 2012, the 30-year-old running back was scheduled for a 2017 cap hit of $8.25 million. The extension likely redistributes some of that charge to 2018, ending any speculation about the possibility Stewart could be released. He had 218 carries for 824 yards (3.8 YPC) and nine touchdowns in 13 games last season, missing at least three contests for a fifth consecutive year. The Panthers could still select a running back early in the upcoming draft, as Stewart's age and injury history are cause for concern, while backfield mates Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker both profile as complementary pieces.
Stewart doesn't appear as if he'll be a cap casualty in the offseason, David Newton of ESPN.com reports. "We've got to get guys like Jonathan Stewart rolling," head coach Ron Rivera said last week. "We've got to put it in our backs' hands and get the ball to our playmakers." The Panthers seemed to be officiated under different rules last season, as the opposition made a concerted effort to make life difficult for Cam Newton. Granted, he didn't display as much shiftiness or instinct as he had in the past, which likely played a role in his failure to tally 100 carries and 500 rushing yards for the first time in his six-year career. Stewart's presence is thus key to keeping Newton fresh, upright, and able to spur on the offense with his do-it-all skill set. Owed $8.25 million in 2017, Stewart would be in line for 200-plus carries for the third consecutive campaign if Rivera intends to get Panthers running backs more involved. However, Stewart turns 31 in March, and his extensive injury history has always been a roadblock to reliable output in a given term.
Stewart (foot) rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while also securing one of two targets for seven yards in Sunday's 17-16 loss to the Bucs. The veteran running back turned in a workmanlike performance, and finished the season with 20 or more carries in three of his last four games. With Cam Newton running less than in previous seasons, presumably due in large part to injury concerns, Stewart averaged a solid 16.7 rushing attempts per game in his age-29 campaign. His nine rushing touchdowns also represent his best total in that category since he crossed the goal line on 10 occasions way back in 2009.
Stewart (foot) is listed as active Sunday in Tampa Bay, Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer reports. Stewart has a lengthy history of foot injuries, which impacted his preparation for Week 17. Having said that, he practiced in a full capacity Friday and should be ready for his typical allotment of touches. If he's afforded such a luxury, he could strike against a Buccaneers defense that has allowed three of the last four opposing running back corps to surpass 100 yards on the ground, while also conceding four rushing touchdowns during that stretch.
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