Stewart was in the final season of his rookie contract and would have been an unrestricted free agent in March, so the move was somewhat of a surprise. After all, the Panthers had signed starter DeAngelo Williams to a five-year, $43 million contract last July, added running back/fullback Mike Tolbert to a four-year, $10 million contract a few months ago and have Cam Newton, who had 70 designed running plays as a rookie, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac 2012.
Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com had a break down of Stewart's deal a few days ago. The deal is worth a total of $37.811 million over the next six seasons, includes $23 million in guaranteed money and will pay out just over $21 million over the next three seasons (2012-14). According to a source with knowledge of the details of Stewart's contract, I can add that the $9 million option bonus in 2014 is to be exercised between the first and 10th day of the 2014 league year.
Stewart's deal was the latest in a series of big-money contracts at the running back position. Including the Williams contract from last July, nine running backs have signed contracts averaging over $7 million per season and containing over $17 million in guaranteed money.
Here's a look at where the Stewart deal ranks in three main categories.
The Total Value and Average Per Year
With $36.5 million in "new money", Stewart's contract ranks a distant sixth, a full $6.5 million below his teammate. On the bright side, he does rank ahead of Pro Bowlers Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch. Stewart's $7.3 million average per year ranks eighth, ahead of only Rice.
Stewart's deal includes $23 million in stated guarantees, but that number is actually a bit higher since it does not include his $811,250 base salary from 2012. Also, if you include the $1.75 million non-guaranteed portion of his $4.25 million base salary in 2015, the figure rises to around $25.5 million, which would narrowly edge out the $25 million that was essentially guaranteed in Williams' contract. (By the way, $2.5 million of Stewart's 2015 base salary is guaranteed for injury right now, but will become fully guaranteed three days after Super Bowl XLVII).
At $23 million, Stewart's guarantee ranks third behind Adrian Peterson ($36 million) and Chris Johnson ($30 million). 63 percent of the "new money" in Stewart's contract is guaranteed, which barely edges Rice (62.9 percent) for the highest guarantee percentage among these nine running back deals.
The First Three Years
Over the next three seasons, Williams will earn $21.311 million. Among the nine deals, that ranks ahead of only the LeSean McCoy contract, which will pay out $20.365 million over the same span. Peterson ($40 million), Johnson ($31 million), Williams and Arian Foster ($30 million) top the list, with Rice rounding out the top 5 with $29 million coming his way over the next three seasons.
Overall, $36.5 million with $23 million guaranteed is a good deal for a running back with just 13 career starts. Stewart could have tested the free agent market in 2013, but the Panthers had some leverage in that they could have prevented that by releasing Williams to free up the cash to use the franchise tag (estimated value of $7.8 million in 2013) on the younger back. With this deal, Stewart gets his wish to stay in Charlotte, does very well in the guaranteed money department, and makes Maurice Jones-Drew wish he played for the other 1995 expansion team.Follow Brian McIntyre on Twitter @brian_mcintyre.