Carolina Panthers Backfield Outlook for 2014: Follow the Money

We all know the general back story – former GM Marty Hurney was in love with his running backs and signed several to big money contracts, locking up tons of salary cap space with just a few players before he himself lost his job.

What most people may not have put all together yet is what his replacement has done with the situation.

First off, I’ve never been a huge fan of GMs. Nothing against them, I just wasn’t so interested in their antics…not until the last few years.

Being a fan means you know the players, the Head Coach, and maybe a little bit of background of the team’s stars. You might know the name of the GM and/or the owner, but beyond that? Not so much.

Having watched rookie General Manager David Gettleman throughout his so-far brief tenure in Charlotte has really changed my outlook on things. I think the man is very, very shrewd and another adjective that actually is a GOOD thing in his position.

Oct 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates his touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

He’s a cheapskate.

When it comes to the salary cap, who wouldn’t rather pay one million rather than two? Or four? Pretty much everybody except the player, that’s who.

I think Gettleman is also looking at the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), which isn’t so “new” now in year three, and he sees the league getting even less player-friendly as a result. Whatever the reason, NFL teams certainly seem more willing than ever to part with good, veteran players in favor of the “under 25″ crowd.

Pick a franchise and it’s clear. Green Bay? Greg Jennings. Atlanta? John Abraham.

Carolina? Geoff Hangartner is as good an example as anyone. With few stars on the team not locked up into long contracts, Hangartner’s release a couple of months ago was a bit of a mystery, considering the overall mediocre (to be kind) state of the offensive line, lack of depth, and the fact Geoff can play both guard and center. While he had a bit of a poor season in 2012, One would have thought his roster spot was locked down with rookie Edmund Kugbila being from a tiny school – Valdosta State – and his being injured keeping him off the field and thus, retarding development.

You thought this was just about the backfield? Hang on, I’m getting there. I just wanted to set up the track record of the NFL under the new CBA. With DeAngelo Williams turning 30, he’s the most obvious man to be “out” for 2014. He’s at that “magic age” where runners start their decline after all – right?

Not so fast.

Williams doesn’t have the huge workload under his belt – or on his knees – that some others his age have. He’s in a crowded backfield that got even more crowded with the addition of Kenjon Barner from Oregon this year. For the record, I think Barner was a great pick-up in the 6th round…if he can conquer the whole ball security thing.

Aug 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner (25) makes a catch before the start of a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won the game 14-9. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Barner’s addition was Gettleman’s way of giving himself and the organization bags of flexibility and leverage at the position. He’s also a possible future star (yes, I said it – he has the talent, you watch) if given the opportunity, but he’s very much a work in progress.

It has been widely reported that both D-Will and J-Stew’s contracts were renegotiated, saving millions against the salary cap, giving the team a reason to keep him around beyond the end of 2013.

Jonathan Stewart’s contract was re-done the opposite way: the “hit” on the cap for him actually increased slightly this year while decreasing for 2014. He is just now coming off the PuP list and likely has more time to go before he’s up to speed and in football shape.

What this tells me is that the organization as a whole still values Stewart over Williams for the future. It makes sense in terms of age alone, since Stewart is still only 26 years old.

I won’t get into his ankle issues, but the money situation tells me he should fully recover even if it’s an extended process where he won’t see the field again until next year.

“Follow the Money” became quite a refrain from the “Deep Throat” character portrayed by the late Hal Holbrook from the movie All the President’s Men and the exact same logic should apply to NFL teams when trying to foresee their long-term vision.

Jan 19, 2013; Fort Collins, CO, USA; Colorado State Rams student fan holds a sign in reference to need money from his mother during the second half against the UNLV Rebels at Moby Arena. The Rams defeated the Rebels 66-61. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Follow the money.

Why increase Jonathan Stewart’s cap hit this year if he’s injured? If his future in Carolina is uncertain, I would think Gettleman would have minimized Stewart’s cap footprint this season and increasing it next season, with the expectation he’d be playing for his job. If he can’t go, the club cuts him and cuts more money from the 2014 cap. They did it the other way around.

Hmm.

With the way the numbers work out, it is apparent that both backs are in the team’s future plans. Add in Mike Tolbert’s unique skill set and his own contract terms, and he should be a Panther through 2015. If anyone (Barner aside) is an odd-man out, it might be DeAngelo Williams, but I don’t think they’re planning on ditching him after 2013 at least at this point.

With Stewart, Tolbert, Williams, and Barner around, that’s your backfield. Crowded perhaps, but it also means they won’t have to go looking for a fresh face there in the draft or in free agency. It also helps account for injuries (see: Stewart, Jonathan) at the most punishing position of the NFL and hence some stability…at least in theory.

I think there should be plenty of new faces on the offense for 2014 as it is.

I sure hope so, at least!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Topics: Carolina Panthers, David Gettleman, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart

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