After Colin Kaepernick crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on his six-year, $126 million contract extension — a complex pact rife with incentives and clauses — it was presumed the precedent had been set for franchise quarterbacks.
(Some also presumed Kaepernick wasn’t worthy of such a deal, but that’s another story for another time.)
The happiest man outside of the Bay Area was likely Carolina Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton. Heading into his fourth NFL season, Newton is now eligible to receive a new contract under the terms of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Newton has intimated this offseason that he’s not thinking about his contractual status, insisting he’s prioritizing fundamentals over financials.
“My main focus is trying to become a better player,” Newton said in March, per CBSSports.com. “I think Russell Wilson put a lot of pressure on young quarterbacks, but needless to say, we don’t have that fallback answer no more. We’re no longer young quarterbacks.
“Going into my fourth year, I want to make that leap, make that stride to be a marquee quarterback in this league.”
But Kaepernick’s breaking of the bank had to have gotten him thinking. As should have some of the other gargantuan extensions doled out to quarterbacks in recent years.
Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, knows he’s the next young QB to get paid. It’s more of a when, not if scenario. The only question is, will it happen in the coming months?
The answer, to quote Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friend.
For two reasons, it would behoove the Panthers to wait before backing up the Brinks truck, handing Newton more money than he’ll know what to do with.
First, it’s simply a matter of economics. In April, the club exercised its fifth-year option on Newton, keeping him under their control through next season. This means, barring an extension, he will play out his rookie contract, which pays him $3.378 million in 2014 before jumping to $14.67 million in 2015.
All things considered, $14.67 million for a young, borderline elite quarterback is an excellent value. And for a team that’s perpetually in cap trouble, any savings is good savings.
Thanks to the fifth-year option, the Panthers — not Newton — hold all the leverage, which may explain his cavalier stance on negotiations.
Though even if Newton was slated to hit free agency next March, I’m not sure general manager Dave Gettleman — who wasn’t in office when Newton was drafted — would pull the trigger on a new deal. Not until after the upcoming season, anyway.
The 2014 campaign will be a huge test for Newton, who’s dealing with a revamped receiving corps comprised of one part aging veterans (Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant) and one part raw potential (rookie Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s first-round pick).
Gettleman took heat for releasing wideout Steve Smith, the far and away best weapon Newton has had in Carolina. The chemistry between the two was apparent, and Smith bailed Newton out of many dicey in-game situations.
Some say the GM is setting up the QB to fail. While that’s a bit misguided, Gettleman surely put more pressure on Newton to succeed, forcing him to work with what he’s got. His extension could depend on how well he responds to the challenge.
Newton demonstrated last season that he’s capable of leading the Panthers in the right direction. His dual-threat abilities helped earn the NFC South crown and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. He set career highs by throwing 24 touchdowns and completing 61.7 percent of his passes, showing solid improvement as a passer.
If he’s able to duplicate that success in 2014, you pay him. No questions asked. However, it’ll be a tough feat with the lackluster talent around him. You might even say there’s a greater chance he actually regresses than progresses.
This much is known: Newton will eventually get a lot of coin — be it in Carolina or elsewhere. But, given the circumstances, smart money has his payday coming later rather than sooner.