The most widely publicized number for Cam Newton over this past week was $103.8 million – the amount of money his five-year contract extension is worth.
By the skewed standards of professional athletics, Newton deserved this contract and both he and the Panthers were smart to get it done. But let’s look at four other numbers I’d like to see from Newton this season as he tries to fulfill his immense potential and get the Panthers beyond the quarterfinals of the NFL playoffs, where they have been eliminated in each of the past two seasons.
10 For all of Newton’s spectacular moments, he has lost more games than he has won as a starter over four years (30-31-1 in the regular season; 1-2 in the playoffs). That speaks to the team assembled around him, but also to Newton’s inconsistency.
Winning is goal No. 1 for No. 1. If this contract is indeed going to be a win-win, then he must actually win – a lot.
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Ten wins should be enough to capture the NFC South division for the third straight season for Carolina. That puts the Panthers in the playoffs with at least one home game, so that’s the first big step for 2015.
25 Touchdown passes. Newton has averaged 20.5 scoring passes over four years, with a high of 24. As he transitions into a quarterback who runs a little less and stays healthy a little more, throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass instead of trying to pound his way into the end zone on a sweep makes sense. If he gets to 25 passing touchdowns in 2015 (Newton had 18 this past year), Newton will be moving in the right direction.
50 Newton rushed fewer times than ever before in 2014, although it wasn’t much different from previous years (103 total attempts, down from a career high of 127). What he did beautifully, though, is make those rushes count – 43.7 percent of them went for first downs, which was easily a career high for him.
That’s the key with Newton’s runs. To take off for a 3-yard gain and take two big hits on first down – that’s a long-term loss in terms of his body.
But to gain those same 3 yards on third-and-2? That’s what the Panthers need. I’d like to see one out of every two of Cam’s runs this year count for a first down (50 percent).
That’s when the risk is worth the reward. You never want Newton to stop running entirely. You just want the rushes to count for more.
64 This is where I’d like to see Newton’s completion percentage in 2015. He was at 58.5 in 2014 – an indicator of his old bugaboo of throwing the ball too high as well as simply not having enough receivers who could get open.
That 58.5 percentage doesn’t sound that bad, but by NFL standards, it is. The number ranked 29th in the league, behind forgettable quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles, Mark Sanchez and Shaun Hill.
Let’s be realistic. Newton is never going to lead the league in completion percentage. But a 64.0 mark would put him at 15th in the league based on last year’s numbers, and it would mean the Panthers are moving the ball more effectively. He’s got a better cast at wide receiver this year and he was at 61.7 in 2013. This can be done.