The Carolina Panthers quietly took their first step to long-term financial solvency, as it was reported this evening that running back Jonathan Stewart restructured his deal with the organization to reduce his cap figure in future seasons, but actually add to Carolina's cap in 2013.
According to Brian McIntyre of Yahoo's 'Shutdown Corner', the deal was done shortly following this year's Super Bowl. The restructuring does the opposite of conventional wisdom -- increases Stewart's 2013 cap hit to $3.01-million, up from $2.8-million. This is a long-term move, and perhaps the clearest sign that the organization will part ways with DeAngelo Williams this off-season, unless a massive restructure is done of the extension he signed less than three years ago.
What the deal does is commit to Stewart over the long-term. Previously there was a $9-million option bonus due in 2014, which has now been reduced to $6.88-million. This would have been the natural breaking point in his contract, but instead this is a vote of confidence in him being the team's feature back moving forward.
More guaranteed salary, less benefit to cut him down the road -- Dave Gettleman has chosen to hitch his horse to J-Stew, early in his tenure. There is, however, a slight possibility that this restructuring was intended to make his contract more appealing. As it stood, a team coveting a running back via trade would have to contend with a huge back-loaded contract just two years in. Now, the deal is more evenly weighted, and appealing. It would be surprising if the Panthers traded Stewart, but it would be a quick way to free up cap space -- and the Panthers need room to breathe.
It remains to be seen what Carolina will do with Chris Gamble and Jordan Gross, the two biggest contracts on the roster -- and most prime to be cut and restructured respectively. Reworking Stewart's contract was the first step, now we wait to see how the rest of the plan unfolds.