Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is healthy, feeling good and finishing up the last of his degree requirements at Auburn.
The next order of business is a long-term contract.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he hopes the team can get a deal done with Newton before the start of the season, but doesn't believe the situation would become a distraction if Newton plays out the final year of his rookie contract.
Newton is slated to make a guaranteed $14.7 million this year after the Panthers picked up Newton's fifth-year option, part of every first-round pick's deal under the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
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The Panthers could begin using the franchise tag on Newton next offseason to keep him under contract.
But Rivera hopes it doesn't come to that.
"Personally, yes I would," Rivera said when asked if he wants the negotiations to wrap up before the season.
"But they have a timetable, both sides do I imagine. Both sides have a plan and hopefully we can all get everything worked out together."
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said repeatedly he views Newton as the franchise quarterback, although Gettleman declined to discuss the contract talks this week at the NFL owners meetings.
The Panthers met with Newton's representatives at the combine last month, but Newton could be content to wait until Seattle's Russell Wilson reaches a long-term agreement and resets the market for quarterbacks.
Rivera doesn't believe the contract situation will be a distraction for Newton.
"I think our quarterback is a smart, savvy young man, understands the dynamics of the game," he said. "I think he's the kind of guy who's able to focus on certain aspects of the game and put things aside. Obviously, that's a work in progress right now."
Rivera said Newton told him recently he's healthy and feeling good after dealing with a number of injuries in 2014, beginning with offseason surgery on his left ankle.
Rivera said he wants to Newton his sharpen his "position-specific skills" this season to become a more polished quarterback.
"I think he relies so much on his great athleticism that sometimes he's not as sound as he needs to be with his fundamentals," Rivera said. "Now as he continues to grow, I think that's the next step is being sound in everything he does."
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