The Panthers hope Jonathan Stewart will play through at least the 2018 season, but that doesn't mean guys like Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey are now lower on Carolina's draft board.
The Panthers on Friday added a year onto Stewart's contract, which was set to void after this coming season. But when general manager Dave Gettleman was asked if that would make him less tempted to take a running back with his 8th pick of next month's draft, he said:
Gettleman added the extension, which should ease some of Stewart's $8.25 million cap hit in 2017, wasn't just about financial relief.
"A couple weeks ago I sat back and I watched every one of his snaps, carries and touches. He's still playing at a very high level," Gettleman said.
"He's always in great shape. He's diligent about taking care of himself. This will be the third year in a row he won't have to have an offseason surgery, and I just think he's kind of like a fine wine right now. It really had nothing to do with (the salary cap)."
Stewart, who turned 30 this week, has totaled 1,813 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns since taking over the lead-back role ahead of the 2015 season. He's just 209 yards away from breaking the Panthers' all-time rushing mark (DeAngelo Williams, 6.846 yards).