Cam Newton and the Panthers have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $103.8 million, according to a league source.
The extension will make Newton the third highest-paid quarterback in the NFL with an average of $20.76 million per year. Only Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger average more money per year than Newton.
Carolina’s franchise quarterback is due to earn $67.6 million in the first three years of the deal. It’s unclear how much of that is guaranteed, but the figure would be the most in league history.
The deal is similar to that of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract in 2013. Ryan becomes the fourth highest-paid quarterback behind Newton with $20.75 million per year.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman noted Newton’s resilience last season through injuries. Newton had offseason ankle surgery and was limited in the preseason. He then suffered crack ribs in an exhibition and missed the first game of the regular season. A car accident in December caused him to miss a second game in the season.
“The amount of obstacles that Cam had to overcome last year and the way he finished the season, not only physically but more importantly mentally, was key for me,” Gettleman said in a statement. “It made me very comfortable doing this deal. From a physical standpoint, he’s got everything you’re looking for. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s got the arm to make all the throws and he’s got a natural feel in the pocket that you really can’t coach. He’s progressed very well as an NFL quarterback and we feel he is still ascending and has a big ceiling yet to reach.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the extension solidifies the relationship between the quarterback and coach. Rivera’s first season as an NFL coach coincided with Newton’s rookie season in 2011.
“We’ve seen continued growth from Cam,” Rivera said in a statement. “As he continues to get better and better this football team seems to respond to him. He’s shown the type of ability to lead on the football field that we’re looking for. We’ve been to the playoffs two years in a row and it bodes very well for our future. I’m very excited we were able to get the deal done.”
The contract was negotiated by Bus Cook, Tony Paige and Chitta Mallik.
Newton, 26, participated in Tuesday’s organized team activities with the Panthers for a two-hour practice. He did not speak to reporters before or after OTAS, but he did sign autographs for fans after practice.
The contract is front-loaded with a large chunk of his guaranteed money in the first three years of the deal. That structure would allow the Panthers – who had been shopping at the “dollar store” in free agency in recent years, according to general manager Dave Gettleman – to have more cap flexibility in later years.
The projected increase in the NFL’s salary cap is another reason for the front-loaded deal. The cap has gone from $123 million to $143 million in the past two years and reportedly could go beyond $150 million in 2016.
Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian said the cap increases make it easier for teams to absorb mega-deals for quarterbacks, but say the big contracts do force GMs to make cuts elsewhere.
“Ultimately with the cap going up every year, with new money coming in, you still are in pretty good shape,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “That’s going to put a dent in their ability to sign players, but that’s the nature of the system. Everybody understands that and recognizes it.”
The Panthers have scheduled a 6 p.m. press conference Tuesday to discuss Newton’s extension.