Forward To The Future 2018: Running Back

forwardtofuturerb18

Now that the 2017 NFL Draft, OTA’s, & Mini Camp has past. As we enter a dull period in between now and Training Camp for the 2017 season.

I decided to try to fill the void of time on my blog with stuff not pertaining to the now but to the later. A series I dubbed “Forward To The Future”.

I decided to break the series into different blogs by position mainly because it would be easier to read instead of digging through one massive piece. Even though this first piece will be a little longer than the rest.

This series of blogs I will be releasing daily for next couple of weeks will cover most position groups on the Panthers (With the exceptions of Fullback, Long Snapper, & Punter). With an extra piece on coaching.

The decisions and questions that GM Dave Gettleman could face with these groups once 2017 is over based on information we have as of the moment of this series release injected with a tiny bit of my personal opinion on the subjects at this time.

Which will undoubtedly change as the season progresses based on performances or injury of each player listed. So for now we will move forward with the information available at this time for the sake of this discussion.

The Panthers as of now look to be heading towards 2018 with right around $24 million in cap space. Once you include possible rollover from their current $15,709,963 million in 2017 and another possible $10 million jump in the 2018 cap.

This is based on the current 2018 projection from OverTheCap.com at $14,518,612 million on a $178,000,000 million cap. Which does not include the rollover at this point in time from 2017 but does include a cap jump from $167 million (2017) to $178 million (2018).

I took the liberty of subtracting that 2017 rollover down to about $10 million based on possible circumstances that would require them to spend in 2017 (injuries etc.) and added it to that $14.518 million projection for 2018.

Now that you have an idea of the cap situation let’s dive into some questions & issues that are yet to be asked and some that probably won’t be asked until after the 2017 campaign. The dilemma and questions the Panthers will be facing come the 2018 off-season and NFL Draft. Starting with the Running Backs.

Jonathan Stewart

The 30 year old back enters into the 2017 season with two years left on his contract running through 2018. While he has all the ability to be the bell cow back for the team in 2018. Every season health concerns surround the injury plagued back and if he can make it through a full season healthy.

While the last few seasons have been some of his healthiest seasons in a long time. Normally he hasn’t left any of those unscathed at some point in the year. Costing him a few games a season. Going into the 2018 off-season and into the last year of his contract he will be 31 years old as well.

As most know. After a back hit’s the age of 30 production decline shortly follows. It’s just the nature of the pounding that they take at the position compared to other positions. For a back that has suffered as many injuries as Stewart has this could happen at any time.

While counting towards $5,250,000 million to the cap in 2018. You have to wonder if Stewart happens to see his production decline or suffers another injury that puts him out multiple games in 2017 if this could be his last season despite signing the extension?

While the Panthers did spend their top 10 pick on a running back in 2017 by drafting Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey. The chance that McCaffrey is in place to replace a power back like Stew is unlikely unless there is a change to the style of backs they want in the offense altogether.

Which means the Panthers very well could look to fill that power back void by the Draft again or Free Agency in 2018 if they should chose to. Much like they did when drafting DeAngelo and Stewart not too long after each other.

Stewart like the recently released RB/FB Mike Tolbert signed a short term extension to remain and maybe finish his career in Carolina. Also much like Tolbert despite signing a short term contract there is a chance Stewart doesn’t see the end of it.

While I personally would not mind Stewart returning for another season if his health and production allows him to. Which would put off the need of getting a power back right away after drafting McCaffrey.

It would not surprised me see the Panthers look to free up $3.75 million in cap and look to continue the youth movement behind Cam with a new power back in 2018 to pair with McCaffrey for the remainder of Cam’s career.

GM Dave Gettleman will need to decide if it’s in the best interest of the Panthers cap wise and production wise to continue to bring back the aging back or do like he has done at multiple positions since being hired. Continue the youth movement a little at a time in that group through the Draft.

A lot of that could ride on Stewart’s performance in 2017 just like it did for Tolbert in 2016 and some of it could ride on if the same coaching staff is here in 2018.

The Panthers have drafted a running back in every draft except in 2016 since Gettleman was hired as GM.

Fozzy Whittaker

If the drafting of running back Christian McCaffrey should have anyone worried for their future. It would be the 28 year old running back who has been the Panthers go to when Tolbert & Stewart were not in the game the last few seasons.

Fozzy is likely to see a diminished roll in the 2017 season if he makes it to the season on the roster at all. With additions like McCaffrey and the do it all wide receiver Curtis Samuel. You can probably expect carries and field time to be taken away from Fozzy one way or another both as a back and special teams player.

Having a guy like Samuel much like Green Bay’s Montgomery gives the Panthers the ability to have someone play receiver but can be put in place of a back if needed.

Going into 2018 Fozzy would be sitting close to that 30 year old bench mark for running backs as well (if he makes it to that season) at 29 years old and much like Stewart entering the final year of his deal in the 2018 season.

Unlike Stewart the numbers on his contract as it pertains to the cap is minimal. Meaning he could be released as soon as tomorrow and it wouldn’t affect the cap all that much.

If he was released in 2017 Fozzy would cost the Panthers $850,000 on the cap and give them $500,000 in relief for 2017. If released in 2018 Fozzy would not cost anything in dead money and save the Panthers $1,150,000 million against it.

The competition between Fozzy and Cameron Artis-Payne will be the one to watch in Training Camp for that 3rd depth chart position at running back. If Fozzy wins out he may stick around for 2017 but past 2017 I have my doubts.

GM Dave Gettleman will need to find out if he wants to keep an aging similar back to McCaffrey on the roster longer than one season or spend time developing a younger back for that 3rd spot on the roster. No matter if it’s Artis-Payne in 2017 or a cheap back through free agency or the Draft in 2018.

If I was to guess today I would say Fozzy’s days as a Panther are numbered no matter if it’s 2017 or the 2018 off-season.

Cameron Artis-Payne

For the 24 year old back out of Auburn much like Fozzy cap gain and loss isn’t really the issue here. Since he is on a rookie contract that only costs $656,563 in 2017 and $746,563 in 2018 against the cap.

Meaning there is little savings to be had by cutting him. The issue is the reduced active roster & game time Artis-Payne has seen since being drafted in 2015. Dropping from 7 games to 3 in 2016. While he shares both the qualities of a Fozzy Whittaker and a Jonathan Stewart in his play style.

He hasn’t given coaches confidence enough to activate him over Fozzy many times in two seasons. Which is usually a troubling sign when your entering into your 3rd season with a GM who puts an emphasis on a 3 year window to figure out draft picks and what you have in them.

This could be a make or break camp for Artis-Payne in 2017. His one saving grace to the roster if he fails to beat out Fozzy could be the fact that he does have two seasons of practice squad eligibility left.

If he can’t beat out Fozzy then his hope would turn to the practice squad and if he would be considered more valued than Simmons come time for cuts for a spot.

Even if he makes it to the 2018 off-season much like Fozzy he may not be here long if they can find a suitable replacement from the Draft or Free Agency. There is a chance this entire backfield could look completely different around McCaffrey in 2018.

If Artis-Payne does make the roster over Fozzy though I believe it would bode well for him in 2018 more so than it would Fozzy. Mainly because of play styles and age. A soon to be 25 year old back who doesn’t have the wear and tear of a 29 year old back.

In the end I won’t put it past a GM who has slowly been redoing all position groups to continue to have his attention on changing the backfield once 2018 rolls around with one or two new running backs.

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