Fans sit torn between which running backs are more vital to the offense for the upstart Carolina Panthers. Contract-wise it appears Oregon runner Jonathan Stewart is the odd man out. Could a team like the Oakland Raiders take advantage?
Mike Tolbert arrival means Stewart takes less carries or seeks new home
The Carolina Panthers decided who their feature running back was when they signed DeAngelo Williams to a long-term extension. Health and diminished stats made it hard for Stewart to get a bigger payday himself. He'd hoped a new season would give him the chance to set it right but Carolina wasn't willing to wait. They went out and signed former San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert to fortify the backfield behind second-year quarterback Cam Newton. Currently listed at fullback, anyone who watched the Chargers play knows that Tolbert should get the ball and will get the ball. By sheer addition and subtraction that means fewer carries for Jonathan Stewart. Like any pro he will accept his new job but like any athlete will believe he deserves the ball more. If Carolina stays with Williams and Tolbert, maybe the time has come for him to find a new home. One team that would love to have him as an active backup are out west in California.
Raiders rely on Darren McFadden to ease the pressure on Carson Palmer
A year ago the Oakland Raiders had arguably the best running back pair in the NFL with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. With Bush leaving for Chicago, the burden has fallen to his backfield star to carry the Raiders running game by himself since the team made no significant moves in the offseason. That likely means the team trusts McFadden to stay healthy unlike last year while he helps quarterback Carson Palmer take over the offense like many fans hope. McFadden has high expectations from analysts and fantasy experts this season. His fast start in 2011 ended with injury, leaving many skeptical if he can make it through all 16 regular season games. That's why Oakland fans hope their team has another move in mind to get him some help. While free agency still has names like Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant, their legs might not have what the Raiders need. That's why the Stewart situation in Carolina is interesting. The Panthers have shown little interest in trading the running back but a team like Oakland would fit him perfectly. Together, he and McFadden could get Raider Nation back to the playoffs.
The Oakland Raiders already traded away many draft picks to get players like Carson Palmer. It's clear they trust Darren McFadden to stay healthy in 2012 but if not they may have to make one more deal. Jonathan Stewart won't come cheap from the Carolina Panthers, but with Mike Tolbert there, he could come at a slight discount.