The Carolina Panthers have cut running back Jonathan Stewart after 10 seasons, a source told the Observer on Wednesday. The team later confirmed the news.
Stewart, who will be 31 in March, had a year left on his contract with a salary cap number of $5.2 million. Releasing him creates $3.7 million in salary cap room for the Panthers.
“Jonathan played the game the way you want,” head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement to the team website. “He brought an element of toughness as a runner that set the tempo for our team.”
Carolina’s first-round draft pick out of Oregon in 2008, Stewart is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 7,318 yards, having surpassed former teammate DeAngelo Williams. He ranks second in franchise history with 51 rushing touchdowns, and had 16 100-yard rushing games.
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Stewart also struggled to stay healthy and has not played in all 16 games in a season since 2011. Despite setting the franchise rushing record last season, his production dipped to 680 yards on 198 carries with six touchdowns. He appeared in 15 games.
The move puts the Panthers in the market for a power-runner who can complement pass-catching back Christian McCaffrey.
One such player on the roster is Cameron Artis-Payne, an Auburn product who was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. Artis-Payne has played in 23 games in his career with 99 carries, 422 yards and four touchdowns.
General manager Marty Hurney, Rivera and the Panthers staff are in Indianapolis this week for the 2018 NFL scouting combine. The running backs work out on Thursday afternoon.
Carolina released two other veteran players this week in cost-cutting moves. Defensive end Charles Johnson and safety Kurt Coleman were cut on Monday.
The Panthers are approximately $30 million under the projected salary cap for 2018.