While we're still waiting to see the breakdown of Tolbert's contract in terms of how the money is spread, one thing we know for sure is that he's paid quite well... provided he is optioned a year from now.
The breakdown of the deal is as follows:
2012: $700,000 (fully guaranteed)
2013: $1 million (+$1.5 million option)
2014: $2.3 million
2015: $2.4 million
Ultimately this deal is an example of Hurney magic again. Giving him $700k guaranteed in the first year is a stroke of genius who keeps his cap figure low, and knocks out a significant portion of the guaranteed money off the bat.
More after the jump
As it stands Hurney has publicly stated he will not put DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart on the trading block, but it's clear in the way Tolbert's contract is built that he is insurance for Stewart in case he leaves next season in free agency.
I think it's important not to get caught up in the semantics of Panthers.com referring to him as a 'fullback' as if Tolbert's long term future with the team is not inexorably linked to the long term future of Stewart. It's important to remember the website referred to Richie Brockel as a 'tight end' during the 2011 season, despite filling none of those roles. Yes, Mike Tolbert has played fullback in his career- but if you watch his film you'll see a player who isn't a particularly gifted lead blocker. He is a great stay-at-home back who can pass block well, he's a strong between the tackles runner, and deadly in the passing game.
Tolbert will add yet another wrinkle to the offense that gives the Panthers without a double the deadliest running offense in the NFL with three stellar RBs and a running QB. For much of the day I was reserving judgement to see how the contract was structured, and as it stands it is genius.
Obviously Hurney got an insurance policy for a reason, and none of us know why he felt the need to have a safety net in case Stewart leaves. However, should Stewart sign long term the Panthers could cut Tolbert after this season with nothing more than a $2 million cap hit. Conversely, should J-Stew decide to leave the Panthers have a reasonable replacement to spell Williams who is on a manageable contract, and they have the room to bide their time while looking for a replacement.
Given the guaranteed money is low, he's not killing cap space, and he took a low-ball offer it's my belief Tolbert was a wonderful addition at a fantastic price.