In the madness of the abbreviated late July/early August free agency period, one shining moment of confusion stood out–the Panthers’ confusion about the value of DeAngelo Williams.
The Panthers handed the 28-year-old unrestricted free agent a five-year contract worth $43 million, with $21 million guaranteed. Our GLS desk abacus indicates that he’ll be 33 if and when he reaches the end of that deal, and far past the age when running backs often face a sharp decline, as long as they’re not named Thomas Jones or Fred Jackson.
The confusion surrounding Carolina GM Marty Hurney’s readiness to hand out such a ludicrous contract was two-fold. First there was the sheer monetary value combined with Williams’ aforementioned advanced age. But secondly, there was the more concerning aspect of Williams’ health since he’s missed 16 games over the last two years, which prompted us at the time to wonder what he had done to earn such a massive pay day.
We’re still wondering, and now the Carolina offense is gradually changing under Cam Newton.
The motivation to retain Williams undoubtedly lied in the uncertainty about Newton’s ability to thrive early in a post-lockout NFL. But regardless of what he thought about Newton’s passing skill, Hurney had one certainty: Newton can run, and he does it rather well. He has 71 rushing yards over two games, 53 of which came last week against Green Bay. Newton’s also scored two rushing touchdowns, and we’re already beginning to see that his mobility could decrease his reliance on the running game.
Williams has seen the early signs of a transition, and was asked about it by Steve Reed of the Gaston Gazette:
“I don’t think there’s an issue with the running game. We’re not the offense that a lot of people are accustomed to seeing. It’s not run, run, pass. That’s no longer our philosophy here and I’m sure that’s evident in the first (six games).”
He’s counting the preseason, but we won’t, because that’s a time when Newton was completing 42.1 percent of his passes, a number that’s now jumped to 62.7. Williams also told Reed that he thinks the running game will grow once secondaries begin to respect Newton more, which remains a possibility. But the decline for the entire Carolina running game has been clear for several years. This is a team that averaged 156.1 yards per game in 2009, a number that shrunk to 115.4 in 2010 due to injuries, and general ineffectiveness.
Williams has been given the ball just 17 times over two games, a standard workload for a running back in a platoon situation, but not the Sunday carry total expected of a player with Williams’ paycheck. The Panthers have attempted 48 runs, which is again a below average number for a team that made a hefty investment at running back, and Williams has only 43 yards on his carries, while Jonathan Stewart has 31 yards on 13 carries.
A transition away from a run-oriented attack under Newton is further demonstrated in Stewart’s receiving yards out of the backfield. Stewart’s career-high in receiving yards is the paltry 139 yards on 18 receptions he finished with in 2009-10. He’s already approaching both of those numbers after just two games this year, and he caught eight balls for 100 yards in Week 2.
Newton is a dynamic player who introduces a dynamic skillset, and he’s restored respectability to a position in Carolina that floundered last year. Williams hasn’t done the same, and now Newton is doing just fine without his help.