UPDATE: According to Joseph Person- Tolbert will be in Carolina this weekend and visiting the team. So yes, this has now been verified; the Panthers have interest.
A few hours ago we had some surprising reports that the Carolina Panthers were showing interest in San Diego Chargers' RB Mike Tolbert. As we've seen with the likes of Legedu Naanee, and Seyi Ajirotutu the Panthers brain-trust are interested in bringing in players from the Chargers' history.
Mike Tolbert expected to land in Pittsburgh or Carolina ... I'm told this isn't like Malcom Floyd, who returned last yr after deal was dead.— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) March 17, 2012
The question as it pertains to Tolbert is 'why?'. With DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson on the roster it would seem like a serious logjam at the position, especially considering the amount of money the organization would be committing to Tolbert.
Mike Tolbert's agent had no comment on whether the Panthers are interested in his client.— Steve Reed (@SteveReed_AP) March 17, 2012
In the time I've spent observing the NFL these kind of 'no comments' from agents typically mean that talks are advancing, and they don't want to upset the apple cart. Ostensibly there's no reason for an agent to not comment on a free agent when a team hasn't shown any interest.
After the jump we'll try and dissect what separates Tolbert from the players the Panthers already have, and postulate what this could mean.
Tolbert is, for lack of a better term- a poor man's Jonathan Stewart, and in a lot of ways that's likely what the team will be looking for. I talked a while back about how the Panthers really painted them into a corner contract wise with DeAngelo Williams being offered money that puts him in the upper echelon of his position, and Stewart with a large contract looking.
As fans we look to justify ways both could fit and get under the cap, but it's just not great cap management. Even if the cap rises drastically in 2013 due to the new TV deal, would it really behoove the Panthers to tie up a lot of money in one position, or would it make sense to make huge leaps in weak areas?
It's important to know this is all based on assumption and hearsay. There's very little concrete evidence the Panthers are interested in the 5'9", 243 lb running back, but the fact his name is being tied to the team is noteworthy enough. We have discussed for some time whether the Panthers could look to trade Stewart leading up to the draft, and should Tolbert be signed it would could foreshadow a trade.
If a trade was in the works (and if you can stomach a little rosterbation) I see the Cleveland Browns being the best landing spot. Many are postulating the Browns would look to take Trent Richardson in the top 10 after losing Peyton Hillis, but I can't help but feel like they would be willing to deal the #22 pick (from Atlanta) for Stewart and take Ryan Tannehill with the 4th pick overall. Tannehill and Stewart would represent a major upgrade to their offense, and for the Panthers it presents an opportunity for them to potentially walk out of the first round with two huge defensive upgrades.
As in all things time will tell, and while I'd be extremely upset to lose see Stewart leave I can't help but feel in the pit of my stomach that it might be the best thing for both sides; to allow J-Stew to become a featured back, and allow the Panthers to make some needed roster/cap adjustments.