Last July DeAngelo Williams was a free agent, and instead of allowing their aging, brittle, and largely ineffective rusher to walk and be overpaid elsewhere, the Panthers did something that was so Panthers-ish.

They gave Williams a five-year contract worth $43 million, $21 million of which is guaranteed. He then returned their investment with a painfully mediocre season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark only once, and averaging just 52.3 yards per game. Taking that further, he had seven games with less than 45 yards, and four when he averaged less than three yards per carry.

That’s what happens when a massive contract is given to an aging and fragile player. Williams will turn 29 at the end of April, which puts him one year away from the running back death age (figuratively, of course). Despite that age he’ll still make $5.25 million next year after a season when he produced rushing numbers that fell far below Fred Jackson’s output in 2011 , even though the Bills running back missed six games.

You’re being reminded of Williams’ woes again because earlier today Carolina signed Mike Tolbert to a four-year deal worth $10 million. It’s a curious signing for a franchise with a curious existence, since Williams is already leading the Panthers’ running back depth chart along with Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson is still under contract next year.

The Panthers have tried to justify Tolbert’s signing by calling him a fullback, thus stating that he’ll contribute primarily as a blocker, and as a receiver out of the backfield. GM Marty Hurney’s statement tried to pour an industrial-sized bucket of water on rumors that Tolbert’s signing would lead to a trade involving either Williams or Stewart.

From ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas:

“Mike is a very versatile player who can do a lot of different things for us. He plays fullback, catches the ball well out of the backfield, plays running back, and is an outstanding special-teams player. It was a good fit, and gives us a chance to add another weapon on offense. We are excited about bringing him back to the Carolinas.”

Well played, Marty. Tolbert is indeed a versatile weapon capable of contributing in many areas, but to truly capitalize on his versatility he needs to be utilized as a goal-line back, a role currently occupied by Stewart.

Tolbert has never shouldered a load for an entire year, but he’s ideal in that goal-line role and has 19 touchdowns over just the last two seasons. He’s also a very efficient pass-catcher, and had 433 receiving yards last year. In a straight-up comparison, Tolbert is only marginally behind Williams in overall yards from scrimmage, as Williams had 971 last year, and Tolbert had 923.

So Tolbert nearly equals Williams in offensive production, yet he’ll make just $700,000 next year. Acquiring Tolbert as an upgrade who’s younger (Tolbert is 26), has faced much less pounding, and can be signed at a discounted rate is a rare wise move by Hurney. But that moment of brilliance is negated by employing two nearly identical players, and paying one a grotesque figure.

Ideally this move would have been made with the intention of trading Williams, but that’s impossible because of his contract, the same deal that Hurney created by bidding against himself last summer.

With that pleasant little rant done, here’s a speed round look at the other notable free agent signings that happened earlier today while we were watching Peyton Manning’s every muscle twitch as he headed to Denver:

  • The Pats added depth to their receiving corps, signing Donte Stallworth to a one-year deal.
  • New England also signed guard Robert Gallery to a one-year deal. Gallery has missed 18 games over the past three years, making this your typical low-risk, high-reward Bill Belichick veteran signing.
  • Muscleman LaRon Landry landed in New York, signing a one-year deal with the Jets worth $4 million. He’ll fill a desperate area of need, as Eric Smith was the only safety under contract with significant playing experience.