Panthers sign running back Mike Tolbert to four-year deal

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.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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