After signing the most lucrative contract in Carolina Panthers history Tuesday, quarterback Cam Newton planned to celebrate with a big night at his uptown condo.
Newton said he planned to “pop a couple milk-carton bottles,” throw down some Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and get ready for Wednesday’s practice.
Newton does – as well as a five-year extension worth $103.8 million, according to a league source.
Newton, 26, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, is under contract through 2020, meaning the Panthers will have their franchise quarterback during his prime.
The organization is setting the bar high for Newton: During a news conference Tuesday evening at Bank of America Stadium, both general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera said they believe Newton can get the Panthers to the NFL’s “promised land.”
Newton said they weren’t saying anything he doesn’t believe himself.
“So much of Carolina feels the same way I feel, when I walk around uptown or when I go places in Carolina,” Newton said. “Everybody is yearning for wins. I’m yearning for wins. This team is yearning for wins.”
Newton’s deal will pay him $60 million in guaranteed money, including $30 million at the time of signing, according to the source. Newton will receive a $22.5 million signing bonus, a $7.5 million roster bonus (due June 6) and $1 million in salary this season, totaling $31 million in 2015.
He was scheduled to make $14.7 million this season after the Panthers exercised their club option.
Newton’s per-year average of $20.76 million per year in so-called new money places him among the top five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. He’s due to earn $67.6 million in the first three years of the deal, according to the source.
The deal is similar to that of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract in 2013.
Newton’s contract is the richest in Panthers history, surpassing the six-year, $76 million deal signed by defensive end Charles Johnson in 2011.
Gettleman said it took only 11 days for the Panthers to finalize the deal with Newton’s agents, Bus Cook, Tony Paige and Chitta Mallik. Gettleman said Newton’s contract was in the works before Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who entered the league a year after Newton, signed his extension last month.
Shortly after he replaced Marty Hurney, the GM who drafted Newton, Gettleman expressed confidence in Newton as the franchise quarterback. He said Newton’s resilience last season through a series of physical setbacks, which included a back injury sustained in a car accident in December, only reinforced his feelings.
“If you think of all the things he went through, this team went through last year, it just cemented the way I felt,” Gettleman said. “He’s gifted. He’s a worker and it’s important to him. That’s why we did this deal. We’ll believe he’ll take us to the promised land.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the extension solidifies the relationship between the quarterback and coach. Rivera’s first year as an NFL coach in 2011 coincided with Newton’s first season, when he broke Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record.
Rivera says he doesn’t expect the newly minted Newton to try to do anything or be anything he’s not.
“He’s being paid for what we believe he is as our franchise quarterback,” Rivera said. “We expect him to continue to be that guy on the football field that guys rally behind.
“And I’m like Dave, I’m very confident in his ability and confident that he’s going to take us to the promised land.”
Newton made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons. Despite a 30-31-1 career record, Newton led the Panthers to the first back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history in 2013-14.
He’s the first player in NFL history to amass 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his first four seasons, and his 33 rushing touchdowns also are the most by a quarterback over that span.
But Newton, whose rookie deal was worth $22 million over four years, never mentioned his contract talks or threatened to hold out if he didn’t get the deal he was seeking.
“I didn’t want to be a distraction. I think I made it clear… I didn’t want it to be about me,” he said.
“I know this team has to be driven in places, and without having a quarterback on-site, that’s going to be kind of hard,” Newton said. “For me, my main focus is trying to bring the Lombardi Trophy to the Carolinas, by any means necessary. With me being selfish enough and thinking about myself, that wasn’t going to happen.”
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said Newton deserved the money, and Norman praised the front office for giving Newton more offensive weapons.
“Much respect to him. I think he worked at it, and last two years we’ve been to the playoffs and we won one of them,” Norman said. “As you see, we’re getting guys around him that can make plays. And when you can do that, I’ve seen him so far in (organized team activities), he’s been money on point with the ball.
“His decision-making has been superb, a lot better from last year. He’s been holding the ball and being careful, without interceptions. We haven’t came up with one yet from him, so that speaks volumes. I feel it was warranted, what he got.”
Norman pointed to Tannehill when asked about critics who might question Newton’s 1-2 playoff record.
“If that’s the case, then you’ve got to (look) at some of the quarterbacks that did get theirs,” Norman said. “Let’s be real; Tannehill, right? Is he in the playoffs? Is he winning playoffs?”
Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian said Newton, at 6-5 and 245 pounds, has a rare skill set that makes him difficult to defend.
Polian, now an ESPN analyst, says the next step in Newton’s development is to help the Panthers become a consistent winner.
“He’s got to be good at the most opportune times. You’ve got to post those 10-6 and 12-4 (records) and do what’s necessary to win in the playoffs. That’s the next step,” Polian said. “If he can do that, he’s going to have a heck of a career. And coupled with that defense, they’ve got a chance to be really good.”
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