Once upon a time Jonathan Stewart was, if not precisely in Saquon Barkley’s position as an exciting young star running back expected to help turn around a franchise, pretty darn close.
Look at this insane spider chart for Stewart coming out of Oregon:
Stewart is now a member of the New York Giants as he enters his 11th season, for the first time in his NFL career not lacing up his cleats and putting on his shoulder pads for the Panthers.
The Giants not only signed Stewart, but they gave the 31-year-old a two-year, $6.8 million contract with $3.45 million guaranteed. Is GM Dave Gettleman insane? Did he just toss good money the Giants could have used elsewhere on a washed up player who won’t help the Giants?
Definitely no to the first question. In fact, to both questions.
“I am very pleased that we were able to make Jonathan a New York Football Giant,” Gettleman said when the Giants announced the signing back in March. “He is a quality runner with power and speed and brings a veteran, professional presence to our locker room. He’s a terrific addition for us at this time.”
Position: Running back
2017 season in review
Stewart’s 10th and last season with the Carolina Panthers was his worst, statistically. Carolina’s 2008 first-round pick (13th overall) ran for a full-season career low 680 yards, and averaged career lows in yards per carry (3.4) and yards rushing per game (45.3).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Panthers chose to move on from Stewart at season’s end.
Stewart finished his time in Carolina as the Panthers’ career rushing leader with 7,318 yards and 1,699 carries. His 51 rushing touchdowns rank second in team history to quarterback Cam Newton’s 54, and his 58 total scores are second to wide receiver Steve Smith’s 75.
Stewart is 31, meaning he has passed the 30-year-old threshold where NFL running backs, even good ones, are expected to turn from fancy ball-carrying chariots into used up pumpkins, ready to be discarded.
Stewart doesn’t think his “pumpkin” days are here yet.
“I’ve got a lot left,” Stewart told media in a conference call after the signing was announced. “The only reason why I would be playing is if I knew I could play and I know I can play, Dave knows I can play -- there is a lot that I feel I want to prove and writing my own story as far as how things shape up moving forward for me. I’m excited about the opportunity at hand and I’m grateful for the owners taking a chance on me and trusting in the GM and the coaching staff to trust me.”
During spring practices, Stewart didn’t want to hear the “aren’t you too old for this?” questions.
“My age says I’m 31, but really, I feel I’m as productive as if I’m 26, 25,” he said. “And that’s just as realistic as it gets.”
The Giants will ask Stewart to contribute on the field, perhaps using his 240-pound frame to churn out tough yards on the goal line and in other short-yardage situations. Stewart has 51 career rushing touchdowns.
They will also ask him to help Barkley learn to carry the weight of being expected to be an NFL star.
“I’ll share a little bit of my wisdom with all of the guys that have questions. The main thing is just take care of your body. I can’t say it enough,” Stewart said. “I think at some point, whether you’re a rookie, whether you’re an 11-year guy, there’s always time to learn, there’s always time to share advice and wisdom that’s gained through experience. There’s younger guys that might experience things different than I have, so there’s always room for me to learn, too.”
Stewart experienced playing for both good and bad teams in Carolina, and his leadership should prove invaluable. If he still has enough left in his legs to help the Giants on the field the money the Giants gave him will have been well-spent.