As posted earlier on the site, Jonathan Stewart tweaked his hamstring and will miss some time from training camp. Missing the beginning of training camp due to injury is always bad news for fans; but when it’s a player that has been as oft-injured as the Panthers running back, it is especially heart-wrenching. To compound the issue, Stewart was reportedly as healthy as he had been in years. This upcoming season was set to be a breakout one, for the former Oregon University star.
The news comes as the antithesis of shock for Panthers fans. Over the last two years Stewart has 141 carries. Compare that number to DeAngelo Williams’ 374 carries over that same span of time. With a dearth of talent on offense, the Panthers will need all of its skill position players to be healthy and productive throughout the season. Should that still include Stewart?
Stewart went down on the same day as 2013 4th round NFL Draft selection, Edmund Kugbila. Kugbila was considered raw, but eventually it was assumed his natural talent at the offensive guard position would shine through and he would overcome his inexperience. Instead, Kugbila missed all of the 2013-14 season with a strained hamstring, and now it seems he will miss another entire season with back surgery. The coincidence of both players going down again leads to an interesting question.
When is the time to give up on a player?
There is usually a “perfect time” to get rid of a player, but that is very rarely apparent during the offseason when acquisitions and deletions are made to the roster. Usually a team must rid themselves of an accomplished player who still has talent left, or a team must hold onto a player until it is apparent to everyone that his contributions are negligible.
Some franchises have become synonymous with preferring to leave the party too soon, rather than too late. The Patriots failed to re-sign Wes Welker last offseason. Welker promptly amassed his highest single-season touchdown total of his career in Denver last year. The Panthers, in contrast, stuck with Thomas Davis through THREE ACL tears. And how did Davis reward Carolina? This past year, only wunderkind Luke Kuechly tackled the opponent more frequently than Davis.
With so much invested in the running game, a stable of talented runners is a necessity. But with his contributions so few and far between, how much longer should the franchise hang on to Jonathan Stewart? The Panthers re-structured Stewart’s deal for some cap relief, but any money invested in a player that can’t stay on the field feel s wasted.