Senior NFL Columnist

Panthers' new deal for Stewart doesn't make sense in today's NFL


The Panthers made a smart move in re-signing Stewart... if this were 1996. (US Presswire)  
The Panthers made a smart move in re-signing Stewart... if this were 1996. (US Presswire)  

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- By now, you know my motto is never to pay running backs in the NFL with the way the game is played today.

How about paying two?

It was with great pleasure that I entered the Bank of America Stadium press box on the night the Carolina Panthers rewarded running back Jonathan Stewart with a new five-year contract extension worth a potential $42 million with $22 million in guaranteed money.

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That comes a year after the Panthers gave running back DeAngelo Williams a five-year, $43-million deal.

Talk about great timing.

In a league where backs are being phased out, Carolina, which played the Houston Texans in their preseason opener Saturday night, is paying them like they have a vault-full of that Bank of America money sitting around to play backs.

Who's next, a new deal for Tim Biakabutuka?

Memo to the Panthers: This is Cam Newton's team now. You don't need two backs when you have him running the show. Build around him. Let him wing it more and more.

I was only in the press box for a few minutes Saturday when Panthers general manager Marty Hurney -- a personnel man I respect greatly -- walked over with a smile on his face.

"Go ahead, give it to me," he said.

He explained his position on the move and I understand his belief, even if I don't agree with it.

"We draft good players and we want to do what we can to keep productive players like Jonathan Stewart," Hurney said.

Stewart is entering his fifth season, but he has just 13 career starts. He had 761 yards in 2011, but averaged 5.4 per rush in 16 games. He did catch 47 passes out of the backfield.

Combined with Williams, the Panthers do have a nice 1-2 punch.

Nice, if it were 1996.

Aren't the Panthers trying to move away from their reputation of being a run-first team, something former coach John Fox loved?

They could have Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson in their prime in their backfield, but if Newton weren't the star of the offense it wouldn't matter.

The Giants won a Super Bowl and were last in rushing.

The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl in 2008 and they were also last. It was the same for the 2009 Colts.

New England, which lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl last February, was ranked 24th in rushing.

See a pattern? Why pay runners when the running game is being de-emphasized?

Hurney was talking to some reporters before the game when I heard him say, "Nobody in the building was against the move."

I looked over, raised my hand, and said there was one.

He broke the Prisco Rule: Don't pay backs. Let alone two of them.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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