The Carolina Panthers have a long offseason ahead of them. The team is riding high after a strong season that earned them the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, but the team now faces a litany of offseason decisions -- none of which is bigger than how to handle the future of Cam Newton.
Newton is under contract for the 2014-15 season, but the Panthers have to decide whether or not to exercise his fifth-year option for 2015. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the top players largely signed modest four-year contracts with a fifth year option built in.
That option works like the transition tag, meaning Newton would be entitled to the average salary of the league's 10 highest-paid quarterbacks. The team has to make a decision on that option by May 3. The tag tender in 2014 should be around $13 million, but that can vary. The point is: it's a lot of money.
Some other factors come into play, like the fact that the fifth year is guaranteed for injury when the team exercises the option, and it becomes fully guaranteed when the player is on the team's roster at the start of the fifth year. If the Panthers want to get him signed to an extension, it will likely happen during this offseason or during the regular season.
But what that extension will look like is kind of a head-scratcher. Newton is in a unique situation, in that he was the first player selected under the new CBA. For reference, Sam Bradford signed a six-year contract for $86 million and $50 million guaranteed as a first-round pick, while Newton signed a four-year, $22 million contract that was fully guaranteed. Both were first overall picks.
Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman isn't going to speak too much about contracts, but he did tell Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer that it's "going to be interesting."
"There's going to be a lot of work, a lot of research. A lot of thought is going to go into it," Gettleman told the Observer, when asked about being the guinea pig, "Philosophically, I'm going to start with a fair offer. It's going to be fair. And then we'll move from there."
Clearly, Newton is the guy for Carolina and he'll be there for the foreseeable future. Gettleman has called Newton the team's franchise quarterback, and said that his maturity was the thing that most impressed him this season.
"Just step back and put yourself in his shoes: First pick of the draft, you're seen as the savior, in athletics you've had very few failures and then you walk into the NFL, 2-14, coming out of the lockout with no OTAs, with no nothing," Gettleman said. "The way he accepted leadership, the way he grew, you guys wrote about how he was letting his teammates help him, his improvement in reading the field and going through his progressions."
So we know that Newton is going to stick around, we just have no idea where that contract will end up. Is he just going to get the kind of money that you expect a franchise quarterback to earn, or will it be inflated due to the fact that he made a lot less in his first three years than players who have come before him?
Gettleman says that there won't be "those $5-$7 million spikes anymore," but it's not a stretch to say that many organizations are looking to Carolina to see which way these things go. There are multiple players who entered the league with the new CBA in 2011 who can now negotiate deals (all contracts were locked down for the first three years of a deal.)
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green are all players taken high who should be looking at extensions soon. Then again, all of these players are among the best at their respective positions, so that should say more about the contract than the new CBA, for what it's worth.