The Carolina Panthers are on the verge of finalizing a long-term deal with quarterback Cam Newton. The five-year extension would keep Newton under contract through 2020 and would pay Newton an average of $20 million to $21 million a year, according to a league source.
The Observer addresses questions about Newton’s deal, and what it means for the organization’s ability to sustain success:
Q. Why now?
A. There was a lot of speculation that Newton’s camp would wait for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to get his extension, which reportedly could reach upward of $25 million a year, to set the market for Newton’s deal.
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But the new deal the Miami Dolphins gave Ryan Tannehill, signed two weeks ago, might have accelerated Newton’s negotiations. Tannehill, who received an average of $19.25 million per year in new money, came into the league a year after Newton and has yet to lead the Dolphins to a playoff berth.
Q. Who benefits most by having the deal done now, Newton or the Panthers?
A. Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about contracts for cbssports.com, said the earlier a team can lock down a franchise player, the better.
“The longer you wait, the more money it’s going to cost you,” he said. “Just imagine what Houston would be paying (two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year) J.J. Watt right now after Ndamukong Suh’s deal (with Miami). That would be insane.”
But Newton also gets financial security rather than play the 2015 season under the fifth-year option held by the team, which would have paid him $14.7 million.
Q. What are the particulars of the contract?
A. That remains to be seen. ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt, who has worked in the Green Bay Packers’ front office, believes Newton’s deal will include more guaranteed money than the incentive-laden, pay-as-you-go contracts signed last year by San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton last year.
Brandt believes Newton’s deal will be more traditionally structured, much like those received two years ago by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Dallas’ Tony Romo and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
It’s worth noting that Bus Cook, one of Newton’s three agents, negotiated Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler’s deal last year. Cutler’s contract included a rolling guarantee that maxes out at $54 million in 2016.
Q. What does Newton’s deal do to the Panthers’ salary cap situation this year?
A. That depends on how it’s structured.
If Newton gets a sizable signing bonus, which under league rules can be spread out over the length of the contract to a maximum of five years, his salary cap number would be considerably smaller than the current $14.7 million.
For example, Corry said if the Panthers give Newton a $30 million signing bonus with a $750,000 salary for 2015, the salary cap savings this year would be nearly $8 million.
Q. How will Newton’s deal affect the Panthers’ ability to lock up star linebacker Luke Kuechly?
A. The contract situations of the team’s two best players didn’t sneak up on Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, who has been preparing for the inevitability since shortly after he arrived in Charlotte two years ago.
When he was cutting veterans such as Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams and bringing in low-cost free agents (particularly last year), Gettleman was doing so in part to clear the decks for Newton and Kuechly, whose long-term deal could wait until next year.
Gettleman suggested as much this spring when, asked about the Panthers’ failure to spend all of the team’s salary cap, he said most of the teams that had done so had given lucrative extensions to their best players.
Q. How can the Panthers be a perennial playoff team with so much money tied up in Newton and Kuechly?
A. Gettleman has to continue drafting well and plug the roster gaps without breaking the bank, which has been his method anyway. The cheapest labor under the current collective bargaining agreement is performed by draft picks.
Consider that the Panthers paid Newton $22 million over his first four seasons, and Kuechly will have made $12.6 million over his first four years. Both those players were drafted by former general manager Marty Hurney, a partner with the Charlotte sports-talk station ESPN 730 and the man who broke the news Monday of Newton’s imminent extension.
But the Panthers’ late-season success last year was spurred in part by a youth movement at secondary and at receiver – with players drafted or signed by Gettleman. In each case, Gettleman ignored calls for a quick, expensive fix.
“Gettleman’s shown admirable restraint, preparing for the deals to come like this (Newton) one and Kuechly,” Brandt said. “I think it’s admirable that he trusts his scouting and trusts his instincts to not go and do that.”
Q. Is Newton worth the $100 million the Panthers are going to pay him?
A. Newton has a unique skill set – which he recently pointed out in an interview with WCCB’s Morgan Fogarty – and has established a number of firsts already.
He broke Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record in 2011 (although the record was broken by the Colts’ Andrew Luck) and Newton’s 33 rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback in his first four seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Newton has 115 career touchdowns, throwing and running. Only Hall of Famer Dan Marino (144) and Peyton Manning (118), who is certain to join Marino in the Hall, had more after their first four seasons.
In today’s NFL, the free agent market for quarterbacks is almost barren (Josh McCown, anyone?). The Panthers either were going to commit to Newton or have to draft another quarterback.
Q. Bottom-line, can Newton win a championship?
A. He can’t do it alone, and Gettleman has taken steps to give Newton more weapons. The Panthers have drafted a wide receiver in the first or second round each of the past two years. The Panthers still need to get Newton more protection, and you have to think Gettleman will use a high pick on a left tackle as early as next year.
While Newton’s overall record is 30-31-1, six of those losses came last season during a losing streak in which he got little protection from a makeshift offensive line.
Newton, helped by a top-10 defense, has led the Panthers to the playoffs two consecutive years. Gettleman and Panthers coach Ron Rivera clearly believe he’s capable of taking them farther.
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