J onathan Stewart is well aware of what people have said.
He has heard critics point to his contract. He knows many have questioned if he will ever be truly healthy again. He has watched more games than he has played the last two seasons.
The more time a player spends on the sideline, the more his importance fades from collective memories. But despite two straight forgettable seasons, time is still on Stewart’s side.
“I’m 27. Even though I’ve been banged up and still working through some kinks, the way I look at life is you have to look at the positive,” Stewart said when Black and Blue Review caught up with him recently. “The positive right now is that last year at this time I wasn’t working out and right now I’m working out.”
Stewart has been a frustratingly consistent presence on the injury report since the Panthers made him a first-round pick in 2008. But the “injury prone” label many have placed on him is not entirely fitting.
In his first four seasons, despite plenty of missed training camp and regular season practices, Stewart rarely sat out when it mattered. He played in 62 of Carolina’s 64 games from 2008-2011. The two exceptions came after he suffered a concussion on this hit by New Orleans safety Darren Sharper in 2010, a game NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later revealed was part of the Saints’ bounty scandal.
But appearances on the injury report finally started translating to games missed the past two seasons.
Jonathan Stewart’s Inactive Games, Career
|2012||1 and 3||Ankle, toe|
|2013||15-17, divisional playoff||MCL|
After playing in 97 percent of Carolina’s games his first four years, Stewart was active in just 45 percent of the Panthers’ 33 games the past two seasons. And the 18 times he sat out came after he signed a six-year, $37.8 million contract just before the start of the 2012 season.
For what it’s worth, that contract was restructured for the first time last offseason. Stewart’s $1 million base salary was lowered to $715,000, which also made his $1.5 million 2014 base salary fully guaranteed. That was until he restructured again this February, slicing his base to $785,000.
But many fans have been left frustrated by a Panthers’ difficult salary cap situation somewhat caused by how much former general manager Marty Hurney invested in running backs. Even if Carolina wanted to part ways with Stewart, doing so would further exacerbate the cap issues since the team would have to take on more than $18 million in dead money.
So a big contract, plus many missed games, has equaled plenty of criticism.
“I understand from the fan aspect of things that you want your best players playing,” Stewart admitted. “And when you lose, there’s a lot of finger pointing every which way. But that’s the nature of the business.”
Yet the Panthers stopped losing for a good portion of last season. And when they made their first postseason appearance since Stewart’s rookie year, he was ready.
After tearing his MCL against the Saints in Week 14, he was expected to be out four to six weeks. The playoff game against the 49ers put him at five weeks.
Stewart wanted to play. He felt he could play. He ended up on the inactive list.
“I don’t really like talking about the past because it’s irrelevant now. But it was tough to watch cause it was a playoff game and I have watched a lot of games the last two years,” Stewart said.
Jonathan Stewart’s Stats, Career
Instead of letting fate somewhat dictate his immediate future, Stewart has become more proactive about his health this offseason. He now does yoga three times a week, believing those stretching sessions have helped him become looser.
In his quest to improve ankle strength and mobility, Stewart has also tried some of Jordan Senn’s secrets. Before signing a free agent deal with the Bears in March, the linebacker spent hours stretching in the locker room during his four years in Carolina.
Among their innovative methods — treating clients like babies.
“Babies climb on things. Babies learn how to walk. They crawl. They walk sideways. It really forces your body to learn how to function properly. Stuff like that really helped get me back into the rhythm of things working out,” Stewart said.
Unlike last offseason, when he had surgery on both ankles, Stewart hopes to be restriction-free when the Panthers ramp up their offseason program with OTAs later this month. But that optimism is the cautious sort.
“As of right now, the things I’m doing, I’m doing pretty well,” Stewart said, before adding, “But football is totally different from just training and running around.”
Many have long believed Stewart is a better back than “Double Trouble” mate DeAngelo Williams. And remember, Stewart had taken over the starting job until his 2012 season was cut short by an ankle injury in Week 12 against the Eagles.
When he is healthy, Stewart can be really good. The problem the last two seasons is the “when” has not happened very often.
The Panthers used to be able to depend on him no matter what happened during the week. But Stewart still has time to remind those who have forgotten what he can do on Sundays.
- Stewart broke news this offseason when he tweeted a welcome to Panthers’ free agent pickup, tight end Ed Dickson. The two have been close friends since they started their college careers at Oregon together in 2005. “Having Ed here is pretty cool. It’s kind of like a reunion,” Stewart said. “He’s definitely going to be a good addition, complimenting Greg (Olsen) and the offense.”
- One of the hotter topics heading into this week’s draft is the continued devaluation of running backs. Stewart’s take? “I think the value of a running back is important, but nowadays, teams are using more than one. When you’re not depending on just one guy, the stock of a running back isn’t as high.”
- He didn’t want to disclose details yet, but Stewart has started to put a solid foundation in place for his music production company. You can listen to tracks by Stewart and Jets’ safety Josh Bush on Heart Grab Music’s SoundCloud page.
- Stewart’s best friend, Andrew Metcalf, recently launched Textstr. The service, which essentially allows businesses to provide customer service via text messages, has interesting possibilities.
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