Scott Fowler

Only one way Carolina Panthers’ $103.8 million for Cam Newton is well spent

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (left) and general manager Dave Gettleman, speaking to the media to announce Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s $103.8 million contract extension, both said they thought Newton could take the team to the promised land.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (left) and general manager Dave Gettleman, speaking to the media to announce Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s $103.8 million contract extension, both said they thought Newton could take the team to the promised land. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Can you buy a Super Bowl for $103.8 million?

The Carolina Panthers hope they just did exactly that, as they have locked up quarterback Cam Newton Tuesday with a contract extension that will pay him nearly unfathomable sums of money through the 2020 season.

The extension gives Newton six more seasons to do what he wants to do most – lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl win.

If he does that, this $103.8 million was money well spent in every way.

If he does not, this contract will ultimately be a disappointment.

I have long advocated that the Panthers sign Newton to this kind of extension, because while he isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL, he is by far the best option the Panthers have at the game’s most important position.

But that doesn’t mean this contract is a slam dunk.

Make no mistake, the Panthers have taken a big risk by tying up this sort of money in any one player. Newton easily becomes the highest-paid player in Carolina history, and a nine-figure contract comes with all sorts of expectations.

Lead. Work. Inspire. Dream.

But the one expectation that counts for the most is also the simplest:

Win.

Although Newton is 30-31-1 in the regular season over four seasons and 1-2 in the playoffs, the Panthers believe he can do just that. As general manager Dave Gettleman said of Newton Tuesday night when asked why the club made this move: “He’s gifted. And he’s a worker. And it’s important to him. And that’s why we did this deal. We believe he will take us to the promised land.”

The Panthers once had a temporary work visa in that land of promise, following the 2003 season. They were quickly kicked out by the New England Patriots. They haven’t been back since.

Newton is 26, in the prime of his football life, and sounded humbled Tuesday by the amount of money he just received. He was more serious than usual in his press conference, obviously adjusting to his new reality.

Coach Ron Rivera has totally bought into Newton in Charlotte for the long term. The two have been joined at the hip since Rivera signed up to coach the team in early 2011 and the Panthers drafted Newton a few months later.

“As long as I’m here, he’s the guy that I believe is going to take me where I want to be,” Rivera said Tuesday.

“He continues to ascend,” Gettleman said, “and I still think there’s plenty of room left.”

It’s not all about Newton, of course. A football team can only go so far on one man’s back, no matter how strong that back is.

Carolina will have to pay another huge sum of money to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly at some point. Gettleman will have to keep finding players to fill every other gap as players age out or get hurt. And the hits Newton took and the leaky offensive line he had to stand behind for much of 2014? That can’t happen again.

Newton, though, is the focal point of this team – No. 1 in every way. He always has been since he got here and he always will be until he leaves. And his goal is the same as everyone else’s.

“I’m thankful this opportunity came and it’s over and done with,” Newton said of the contract extension. “Now I can focus on football, and getting the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, and winning the Super Bowl.”

You know the old saying that hindsight is 20/20? (Newton has occasionally claimed hindsight is 50/50, but we all know what he means.) In this case, we’re not talking about hindsight. The Panthers are hoping that foresight is 20/20, with the most relevant 2020 being the year this contract extension expires.

If Newton plays only through that extension in Charlotte and not a bit less or more, that would mean that up to this point he has only completed 40 percent of his time with the Panthers.

Think of all that has happened already to Newton in his four seasons with Carolina: All the individual records. Two NFC South championships. The frightening car wreck. The graduation from Auburn. The dozens of “touchdown footballs” he has given away to kids in the stands. The high throws and costly interceptions. The 115 total touchdowns. The 72-yard touchdown run that he ended with a front flip into the end zone, just because he could. The first playoff win that came just this past January.

Thanks to this contract extension, we all get six more years of The Cam Newton Show. There’s no doubt it will be a dazzling and entertaining ride.

But will this contract extension ultimately be slam-dunk successful?

Only if Newton wins a Super Bowl.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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