|Tolbert took less money to play in Carolina. (US Presswire)|
If you had to pick one team that would go out into the free-agent market and sign a running back, would that team have been the Carolina Panthers? No it would not have been. But they did it anyway, signing former Chargers running back Mike Tolbert, our 30th-ranked free agent, to a four-year contract on Monday.
Yes, the Panthers have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on the roster, which makes this an eminently joke-able affair. But it's actually a great signing by the Panthers, for a number of different reasons. Let's talk about those.
For one, Tolbert took less money to sign with Carolina. According to his agent, Tolbert -- who went to school at Coastal Carolina University -- left more than a million dollars on the table to ink with the Panthers. Anytime a player takes less money to play for your team, that's a good thing.
Tolbert is, as we noted, a former Charger. Which means he's extremely familiar with Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski, and they're extremely familiar with him. Tolbert also represents something the Panthers didn't have in 2011: a goal-line back. This is critical moving forward for Carolina, because it means not having to use Cam Newton in short-yardage rushing situations every single time they get inside the red zone. That means keeping Cam upright and healthy for a longer period of time.
And then there's this: Jonathan Stewart will be a free agent after 2012. At only 24 years old, he's averaged 4.8 yards per carry for his career, he has multiple seasons of 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage, and he's never carried the ball more than 221 times in a season. He's an extremely valuable commodity for a team like, say, the Bengals, who need a running back and have a surplus of draft picks thanks to the Carson Palmer deal.
That doesn't mean the Panthers will trade him; I'm simply lobbing it out there. Carolina might also just be interested in picking up a dangerous offensive weapon at a value price.