Carolina Panthers

Column: Is it too early to think about the end of Cam Newton’s contract? It’s within reason

Let’s rip the bandage off — Cam Newton’s contract expires after the 2020 season, so it’s a given he’ll receive a new one before hitting free agency, right?

His 2019 season should offer an answer.

It’s reasonable to think an NFL team would be hesitant to give a 31-year-old quarterback with habitual shoulder problems a potentially historic amount of money as he approaches the final years of his playing career. It’s also reasonable to believe Newton is at least aware of the impending finality of the five-year, $103.8 million extension he signed in 2015.

He said as much in the latest episode of his offseason video blog — in which he’s been notably candid with his audience. By his account, this offseason has been about personal growth for the former NFL MVP, who says he practiced celibacy during the month of March.

Newton explained his thought process in Thursday’s vlog.

“I’m going through a trying time in my life, where I need things that’s going to make me better,” he said. “I’m coming off surgery on my shoulder and there’s a lot of people that’s kind of counting me out. There’s also new talent coming in that wants my spot, for whatever it’s worth. It’s also things that I’m seeing through the lens of, ‘Cam lost a step.’

“I’m trying to knock all that (expletive) out the park because when I’m focused, I’m dangerous.”

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It’s not uncommon for athletes to fan the flames of their criticisms as a means of motivation, no matter how innocuous that criticism is (see: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots), but Newton’s point of view has merit.

His two-year recovery from a partially-torn rotator cuff has been, by his account, frustrating and redundant, and his sputter to the end of the 2018 season didn’t effect much confidence among his critics. But the Panthers feel strongly about the success of his arthroscopic surgery in January.

Still, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said last month the team’s doctors are discussing all possibilities with Newton — on either end of the spectrum.

It’s likely Carolina takes a quarterback in the middle to late rounds in the NFL draft later this month, not to replace Newton but to both supplement him and learn from him. The “new talent” Newton referred to won’t be taking his spot in 2019, but with players like Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence set to enter the NFL in the next two years, that talent is coming like the White Walkers in “Game of Thrones” (it can’t be a spoiler if they’re talked about in every episode).

Which is why Newton’s doing everything possible to keep them either on the sideline or out of Carolina altogether. Sharpening his mind and reinforcing his body — Newton seems determined to bring the best possible version of himself to Bank of America Stadium and beyond next season.

Doing so could pay dividends on and off the field.

When Newton was healthy in 2018, Carolina was one of the most efficient teams in football. It ranked ninth in yards per play and tied for the third-fewest turnovers in the league, with Newton throwing just four interceptions during the Panthers’ 6-2 start — before they lost seven of their final eight games as his health deteriorated.

Another year in Norv Turner’s offense, the playmakers in it and Newton’s return to that form could mean another deep playoff run for the Panthers. Since the team likely wouldn’t want contract negotiations to spill into the 2020 season, it could also mean a new deal for its all-time leading passer.

This isn’t propaganda for Newton’s dismissal from Carolina nor is it a pamphlet for his return, but rather a preparation for the discussion to come. All focus and perceived danger aside, if he’s healthy, he’ll likely retire a Panther. Newton is one of the most unique talents in NFL history; he’s beloved among this fanbase and is an undeniable franchise quarterback in a league where teams could go a decade without one.

But NFL teams, especially ones with new owners, don’t make nine-figure decisions based solely on values like focus or heart. If he can’t stay on the field, or his shoulder limits the impact he has on it, the words that taste like vinegar in most Panthers fans’ mouths may become a reality, and one of those “new talents” coming for Newton’s job could actually get it.

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Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.