Pretend you’re Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman.
ME: Dave, how are you doing?
FAKE GETTLEMAN: You know I can’t talk about that.
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Good. You’re in character.
So here’s the question, Dave Gettleman. Do you pay Cam Newton?
Gettleman has several complicated issues to contend with before the 2014 season. Offering Newton a new contract is not one of them.
If Newton is Carolina’s franchise quarterback, the Panthers will pay him. If he’s not, they won’t.
Newton is Carolina’s franchise quarterback.
The four-year contract he signed as a rookie expires after the 2014 season, and megabucks will be required to keep him. He could, of course, reject the megabucks. But who was the last franchise quarterback who left a franchise that wanted him?
Last season Detroit gave Matthew Stafford (whom the Lions selected with the No. 1 pick two years before Carolina selected Newton No. 1) a three-year, $53 million extension. That lifts his contract to five years and $76 million.
That money limits what the Lions can spend on talent around Stafford. If a general manager pays the wrong guy, a team can collapse under the weight of the contract. A franchise quarterback is entrusted with a team’s offense and its future.
Many of you believe Newton is not worthy of that trust. His passes occasionally sail and he occasionally holds the ball too long.
But he’s only 24, and he trailed his peers when he came to Carolina. He started only two college seasons – one for Blinn College and one for Auburn.
Newton is not the Panthers’ best player. But he is their most important.
No longer can a team win with a journeyman. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is not a great quarterback. But he became one during the playoffs last season and led his team to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
Would the Panthers still be playing if Newton were a franchise quarterback?
You can’t blame him for the loss. The Panthers’ offensive line has been chopped up by injury, and Newton’s running often masked their shortcomings.
Carolina also needs another dynamic receiver. Steve Smith, at 34, still is dynamic, Ted Ginn Jr. offers speed and Greg Olsen is a top-ten tight end. I thought Brandon LaFell would evolve into a lesser version of Muhsin Muhammad, but I was wrong. He’s a lesser version of Domenik Hixon.
Gettleman’s mission is to do for the offense in 2014 what he did for the defense in 2013.
The power structure in the NFL, unlike Major League Baseball or the NBA, is fluid. The Panthers next season could slide back toward their customary spot near the bottom of the standings.
Or, instead of clinging to what they attained in 2013, they could build on it.
If Gettleman is as good as he appears and continues to add to the talent his predecessor, Marty Hurney, collected, Carolina could be on the verge of becoming a winning program.
As the Panthers grow, a new contract will ensure that Newton has the opportunity to grow with them.
He proved during his first two seasons that he’s a gifted athlete. He proved this season he’s their quarterback.