Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will look across Bank of America Stadium on Sunday and see a contemporary with similar numbers in most categories, with one big exception their paychecks.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, like Newton, is a former Heisman Trophy winner and a No. 1 overall pick. But because he was drafted in 2011, a year after Bradford and in the first year of the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, Newton received less than half of Bradfords $50 million in guaranteed money.
Newton dismissed the issue this past week, saying worrying about his contract would distract him from his goal of getting the Panthers (2-3) to .500 by Sundays end. The Panthers have never been above .500 under Newton, who is 15-22 as a starter, compared with Bradfords 18-29-1 record.
No quarterback in NFL history threw for more yards (7,920) his first two seasons than Newton, whose physical skills at times have been offset by his inconsistent play.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Friday that Newton is the teams quarterback of the future.
We see him as our franchise quarterback. Thats why he was drafted and drafted to be here a long time, Rivera said. Very pleased in his development. The last few weeks the way hes played things got tough for him in the last quarter against Arizona. But for the most part, the things hes done, every indication (is) hes the guy that we want to be here.
As to whether Newton wants to be in Charlotte, the quarterback has been noncommittal on the subject, pointing to the business side of the sport.
One of the men making those business decisions was not with the Panthers in 2011 when they selected Newton, after Andrew Luck returned to Stanford, and after theyd visited with other quarterback prospects such as Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallett.
General manager Dave Gettleman, the former New York Giants pro personnel director, said during training camp he believes Newton is the quarterback the Panthers can build around but now its time to win.
Newtons future will be a hot topic the rest of the season.
Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can begin renegotiating rookie contracts after the players third season. Contracts for first-round picks also include a club option for a fifth year, which must be exercised by the March following the players third year.
The Panthers option for Newtons fifth year is $14 million. The Panthers also have the option of using the NFLs franchise tag on Newton, in the absence of a new contract, which could tie him to Carolina through his eighth NFL season, albeit at an exorbitant salary in the final year.
But what to do with Newton is just among the questions facing Gettleman and owner Jerry Richardson, including whether Rivera will return as coach.
More change coming?
Rivera has a year remaining on the four-year contract he signed succeeding John Fox before the 2011 season. But Riveras poor track record in close games and failure to make the playoffs his first two seasons have put his future in doubt. If the Panthers fire Rivera and his coaching staff, it would pair Newton with his third offensive coordinator since turning pro the same situation many observers believe has hurt Bradfords development in St. Louis.
But former NFL coach Herm Edwards said Newton should be the Panthers quarterback regardless of who is the coach.
The new head coach coming in has to look at Cam Newton and go, OK, lets fix this guy. What do I do to make him a good player? Because Im going to look at the (2014) draft, and they say there are good quarterbacks coming out, said Edwards, an ESPN studio analyst. But (Newton) right heres a pretty good quarterback now. If it was me and I dont coach anymore I take the guy and I (find) the best quarterback coach that I can hire.
Newton and Bradford enter Sundays game coming off victories in which they posted the best passer ratings of their careers. Newton completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in a 35-10 win at Minnesota.
Newton went through his route progressions, hit his checkdown receivers (running back DeAngelo Williams caught five passes) and finished with a passer rating of 143.4. Newton credited his work with offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey for preparing him the game.
I was just taking what the defense was giving me, nothing more, nothing less, Newton said. And gave my guys the opportunities to make plays.
With the Rams getting two defensive touchdowns last week in a 38-13 win against Houston, Bradford attempted only 16 passes. But he completed 12 for 117 yards and three touchdowns for a 134.6 passer rating.
Bradford ranks 11th in the NFL with a passer rating of 90.7 this season; Newton is 14th at 89.4. For their careers, Newton (85.9) is a higher-rated passer than Bradford (79.1), as well as a more dangerous and accomplished runner.
But Newton had little interest in being drawn into a discussion about himself and Bradford.
First off, I dont want to be compared to any other quarterback. No disrespect to Sam Bradford, but I feel as if Im my own player, Newton said. We all have challenges. As a quarterback in this NFL, nothings perfect, no matter if youre playing lights-out like Peyton Manning. You still have issues that have to be taken care of and something that motivates you on a consistent basis that gets you to go. ...
No matter what the similarities are in quarterbacks or what the records are, our job on Sunday is to be 3-3.
Running as a crutch
Edwards, who coached eight years with the Jets and Chiefs, believes Newtons scrambling ability can work counter to his development as a quarterback. Edwards said the same thing happened to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
When youre talented and youre a dual threat, sometimes your way out is you just run, rather than to really get it all and study it all and put your heart and soul into it. Because you always know Ive got an out. Ive got something that these other guys dont have. I can run. I can go make a play, Edwards said in a phone interview.
But when youre Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Philip Rivers, you dont have that option. God didnt give you that option. So sometimes you use that option a little bit too much, and that becomes your crutch, Edwards added. That becomes, I can get out of here. Rather than, The frontside read is covered, Ive got to sit here one more second and then Ive got to go to my backside read. Rather than do that, you take off. And that sometimes is a good thing, and sometimes its not so good.
Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis would argue its a good thing where the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton is concerned. Laurinaitis compared hitting Newton to tackling a tight end and said the scrambles can be more disconcerting than the called runs for Newton.
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher agreed Newtons versatility presents a challenge.
Hes an accurate thrower. Hes making good decisions. Hes got a good sense for timing in the pocket. And of course, he can extend plays with his legs, Fisher said. That second dimension the ability to run whether its extending pass plays or its called runs makes him very hard to defend.
The Panthers have de-emphasized the read option under Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Rob Chudzinski left in January to become Clevelands coach. Newton has spent more time in the pocket, where hes trying to become more consistent with his footwork, reads and accuracy.
In a 22-6 loss at Arizona two weeks ago, Newton was sacked seven times and lost four turnovers, including three interceptions. But he bounced back against the Vikings with a nearly flawless performance that caught Edwards attention at ESPNs studios.
I said it on television, Now, thats the Cam Newton that you want to see. Thats the guy that should be playing like that consistently. It shouldnt be every four games, Edwards said. His problem is that because hes so talented and because when the game is kind of getting away from him, (he thinks), Ive got to go make a play now. And he takes off and tries to make something happen. Because he feels, Ive got to win the game, because Ive always won the game.
Winning heals all
Newton won two national championships as a college player at Auburn and Blinn (Texas) College, a two-year program. Winning consistently on Sundays would help his negotiating power.
Of the NFLs eight highest-paid quarterbacks, five own a Super Bowl ring. The three that dont are Atlantas Matt Ryan, Dallas Tony Romo and Detroits Matthew Stafford.
Newtons rookie deal was for a guaranteed $22 million a pittance compared to the six-year, $78 million deal, with $50 million guaranteed, Bradford got in the final year of the old CBA. With first-rounds busts such as JaMarcus Russell banking tens of millions in guaranteed money before ever taking a snap, the new CBA sought to move money toward veteran players and away from unproven rookies.
Andrew Brandt, who spent nine years in the Green Bay Packers front office, is interested to see what the market bears for Newton and other members of the 11 quarterback class, which included second-rounders Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton.
Weve seen this past offseason a lot of elite quarterbacks re-up, with (Joe) Flacco and (Aaron) Rodgers and Ryan. And I guess you could put Romo in there, said Brandt, ESPNs NFL business expert. It will be interesting to see a new younger group get involved with Cam and Bradford and some others. Its hard to surmise that theyre going to be at the level of a Rodgers and Flacco because of their resume. But youd like to see if they reach that next tier.
Gettleman, who declined comment for this story, said in July he believes in letting nature take its course.
Cam has had the best two years of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. And everybody talks about the other young (quarterbacks), Gettleman said then. What hes done has been completely lost in the sauce because of the elephant in the room the 13-19 record (after his first two seasons). ... Things will happen naturally.
Newton, who has a number of national endorsement deals, said he hasnt let the disparity in earnings between him and Bradford bother him.
Absolutely not, Newton said. If Im worried about things like that, I feel as if thatd be a distraction. ... No matter the similarities, no matter the contracts being a year (apart). My main focus is how can Cam Newton be prepared mentally and physically so I can hold myself accountable before I can lead this team.
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