Late on Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter dropped a report that the Detroit Lions will be meeting with free agent DeMarco Murray on Monday amidst the legal tampering period that begins on noon. However, Schefter added to the report on Monday morning, noting that a different running back would meet with the team first:
Before former Titans’ RB DeMarco Murray arrives in Detroit later today, former Panthers’ RB Jonathan Stewart is scheduled to visit first today with the Lions, per source. Detroit looking for RB help.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2018
Like Murray, Jonathan Stewart has already been released and is therefore able to meet and sign with any team at any time. The Panthers released Stewart, who turns 31 later this month, after 10 seasons with the team. Last year, Stewart was part of a running back by committee (though he started 10 games) and managed 680 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry.
With the addition of 2017 first-round pick Christian McCaffrey and the aging on Stewart, the Panthers decided to cut Stewart last week in a move that saved them $3.7 million in cap room.
Stewart is a similar back to Murray in that he utilizes his wide frame as a power back. At 5-10, 240 pounds, Stewart can be a tough back to take down, but unlike Murray, it has been a while since Stewart has had a dominant year. He has only rushed for over 1,000 yards once in his career (2009) and he has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in his past three seasons combined.
However, the Lions aren’t likely looking for a full-time back through free agency. Considering their first two targets are Murray and Stewart, it appears Detroit is simply looking for a power back who can help them convert on third-and-short—a scenario they were horrible at in 2017. Murray or Stewart could get a lot carries with the Lions in 2018, but they would likely share a significant role Ameer Abdullah or a player added through the draft. Both Murray and Stewart shared the load last year, so it would be nothing new for the two veteran backs.