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Jonathan Stewart signs Panthers contract extension

The Carolina Panthers want running back Jonathan Stewart around beyond 2017.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that Carolina extended Stewart's contract one year, meaning he's signed through 2018.

The 30-year-old running back was slated to count $8.5 million against the salary cap in 2017. The extension alleviates part of that hefty number this season, while giving Stewart some security for next year.

This type of extension for a veteran is a common move for teams to earn cap space in the short term. What it secures, is that Stewart -- a player some thought could be a surprise cap casualty -- is in the Panthers' plans at least this season and perhaps beyond.

As he has the majority of his career, Stewart battled injury in 2016, missing three games and earned just 3.8 yards per carry on 218 attempts. He's still an effective back when healthy, but the running back position is one the Panthers are likely to add to when the draft rolls around at the end of April.

Stewart, no stranger to sharing a backfield, told Max Henson of the team's official website that he's perfectly comfortable if the Panthers bring in a rookie to help carry the load.

"I mean, it's a good thing. You always want fresh legs," Stewart said. "Fresh legs mean a lot, especially in the fourth quarter. Having somebody potentially come in here ... there are a lot of good running backs in this draft class, a lot of talent. Definitely open arms to get somebody in here that wants to win and understands that. We're better as a fist than we are as an open hand."

Even with Stewart's extension, mock drafters can continue to link Leonard Fournette to the Panthers.

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