CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers have added more depth to their already deep stable of running backs.
The Panthers announced Monday they’ve signed free agent Mike Tolbert from the San Diego Chargers. Tolbert spent three seasons with Ron Rivera, who was the Chargers defensive coordinator before becoming the Panthers head coach.
“Mike is a very versatile player and is they type of player who do a lot of different things,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “He can jump in and play fullback, he catches the ball well out of the backfield and plays running back. He’s also an outstanding special teams player.”
Tolbert’s agent Joel Turner said his client signed a four-year contract, but would not disclose the financial terms of the deal.
However, he said Tolbert was so excited about joining Carolina that he left over $1 million on the table on an offer from San Diego.
“That’s how bad he wanted to play there,” Turner said. “He loves the idea of playing for Ron Rivera and being on the same team with Cam Newton. He just thinks it’s a great fit.”
Tolbert has spent all four of his seasons in the NFL with San Diego. He had 490 yards rushing and 433 yards receiving on 54 catches last season and scored 10 touchdowns while splitting time with Ryan Mathews. His best season came in 2010 when he led the Chargers with 735 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
Tolbert has started 15 games and played in 59 during his four years with the Chargers.
A former player at Coastal Carolina, Tolbert was eager to get back to the East coast and liked what he saw from the Panthers organization, Turner said.
The question now is what this means for the rest of Carolina’s backfield.
Carolina already had one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the league with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. All three are under contract for next season but one could be moved.
The Panthers signed Williams to a five-year contract last summer and have been trying to lock up Stewart to a long-term extension as well.
“Mike’s signing has does not mean we’re trying to trade DeAngelo or Jonathan,” Hurney said. “We’re making no attempts to trade either one of them. We’ve made no calls and will make no calls. We view DeAngelo and Jonathan as very valuable members of our team.”
The speedy Goodson has success at the end of John Fox’s regime in 2010 with three straight 100-yard games, but could be the odd man out. He struggled with fumbling last season and fell out of favor with Rivera and barely played at all as the season progressed.
The Panthers like Tolbert’s versatility, although he’s expected to see most of his action at fullback.
Although he’s a talented ball carrier, the 5-foot-9, 243-pound Tolbert has played some fullback with the Chargers and proven he can be a run-blocker. He’s also a talented receiver out of the backfield with 109 career receptions, including six touchdowns.
Tolbert is also a contributor on special teams.
He had 12 tackles last season for the Chargers, tying for the team lead. The Panthers have made strides this offseason to upgrade their special teams play.
“It was a good fit and gives us a chance to add another weapon on offense,” Hurney said. “We are excited about bringing him back to the Carolinas.”