Panthers give RB Stewart 5-year extension

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jonathan Stewart never doubted he was going to remain with the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers reached a five-year contract extension with the fifth-year running back hours before their preseason opener Saturday night, meaning Stewart and close friend DeAngelo Williams will remain teammates for the foreseeable future.

The new deal could keep Stewart a Panther through 2017. Financial terms of the deal weren’t immediately available. ESPN, citing sources, reported the deal includes $22.5 million in guaranteed money and is worth $36.5 million overall.

Williams signed a five-year, $43 million contract with Carolina last season.

Stewart said it was a relief and a blessing to get the deal done and is excited that he and Williams, who refer to themselves as “Double Trouble,” will remain together.

“We have a group of guys that understand the team aspect of winning football games,” Stewart said. “That is ultimately what I want to do. I want to be on a good team and this is a good team. We got a lot of good guys. The offensive line, Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross… all over the team we got a lot of good guys. There is no other place that I would rather be.”

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney says the team is “thrilled” to keep Stewart.

“He is a perfect fit for our organization,” Hurney said. “He is a playmaker who can make the difference in games and we have seen the impact he and DeAngelo Williams have had on our team.”

The decision ends any speculation the Panthers (No. 20 in AP Pro32) might attempt to trade Stewart, who was in the last year of his contract.

Hurney said that was never an option.

“We didn’t even consider it,” Hurney said. “He’s a valuable player for us. All you have to do is look is look at his production. I think you look at it as if you try to add as many weapons as possible on offense, regardless of position. And Jonathan and DeAngelo have been a proven to be a solid 1-2 punch for us.”

The Panthers also added fullback Mike Tolbert in the offseason, who figures to be a big part of the offense, too. With Cam Newton also a valuable runner, the Panthers figure to be among the league leaders once again this season in rushing.

Technically Stewart is a backup running back for the Panthers, but in name only.

In fact, Stewart had 189 total touches last season, 18 more than Williams in 2011.

Hurney said Stewart’s “multi-dimensional” skills are a big bonus for the Panthers.

Along with rushing for 761 yards and four touchdowns last season, Stewart also caught 47 passes for 413 yards receiving with three scores. He served extensively as the team’s third-down back last season because of his receiving skills.

Stewart has run for 26 touchdowns in his four seasons.

Hurney said re-signing Stewart, a first-round draft pick in 2008, has been a priority this offseason.

“We feel like you have to keep your good players,” Hurney said. “That’s why we aren’t active in free agency. We place an emphasis on re-signing the players we’ve drafted. And Jonathan is a valuable player for us.”

Quarterback Cam Newton said the team’s ability to lock up Stewart is huge.

“You want to keep your core guys,” Newton said. “Obviously Jonathan is a guy you want to invest in not only on the field, but off the field.”

Stewart is the team’s second leading career rusher behind Williams with 3,500 yards. In 2009, Stewart ran for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns.