Cam Newton signed one of the biggest contracts in NFL history this past week. The Panthers gave him a massive extension of 5 years, 103 million dollars. 60 million of it is guaranteed, and Newton stands to see 67.6 million in the first two years of the contract--including 31.5 million in 2015. Needless to say that this is a large amount of money to commit to any Quarterback, but is Cam Newton worth this investment? On the face of it, the Panthers appears to have panicked and overpaid in fear of the unknown. And in doing so, they gave out arguably the worst contract in NFL history.
Cam is one of the most widely debated players in the NFL among even the pundits and coaches in the NFL. Some point to him as the “new prototype QB” in the NFL that can be just as effective with his feet as with his arm, but other correctly point that dozens of QBs have been called that throughout the past only to see them flame out since the league rules are rigged against running QBs. At first blush, Cam appears to be in the latter category. He had an amazing 2013 season, where thanks to an amazing defense the Panthers were able to win 12 games. However, outside of this one singularity of a season, the Panthers have largely disappointed with Newton at the helm. And after his 14 rushing TD season (and 35 total TDs) rookie season, he hasn’t had the same impact on their offense. Also, it appears that his stats are frozen in place as a so-so QB in a passing heavy era. In 2013 and 2014, the only passing stats that he finished in the top ten in were "sacks" and "yards lost in sacks." Worse yet, Cam Newton’s main passing stats for 2014 were as followed:
3127 yards, 58.5%, 18 TDs/12 Ints, 7 Yards per attempt, 223 yards per game, 82.1 QB rating and 38 sacks taken.
Compare this to Kyle Orton’s 2014 season:
3018 yards, 64.2%, 18 TDs/10 Ints, 6.8 yard per attempt, 251 yards per game, 87.8 QB rating and 33 sacks taken.
And in ESPN’s nebulous QBR stat, Cam came in right below Mark Sanchez in 2014. While this might be considered cherry picking, a couple career stats to chew on. In his career, Cam is 1-6 in playoff games and primetime games as the starter along with a QB rating of 77.4. This is pretty poor for any QB. And his career TD to Int ratio is 1.5. In 2014, he ranked 27th in this stat. Football Outsiders’ metrics compare Cam’s career so far to Ken O’Brien’s 1985-87 run. Which also is far from quality play. The fact is that Cam just isn’t a good quarterback and isn’t improving, which is a dangerous combination in a player for any team giving out a franchise level contract to.
So why did the Panthers give out the biggest three year outlay to any player since Peyton Manning’s contract with the Broncos? Simply put: fear of the unknown. With more and more QBs of the potentially amazing free agency class of 2016 signing extensions, the Panthers didn’t want to be without a chair when the music stopped. Unless they swung a trade, they would have been choosing between franchise tagging Cam (which in retrospect would have made more sense for them to do), Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, or dealing for any number of Quarterbacks who need a change of scenery. Combine this with the Panthers’ fans firmly in love with Cam for his 2013 playoff run, Gettleman (their GM) had no choice but to deal Cam Newton now and hope to get back a potential QB of the future or give him this contract. Gettlemen’s desperation is apparent since unlike Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick’s massive extensions, Cam’s contract doesn’t have any exit clauses where the Panthers could get out of the contract easily. At best, the Panthers could cut or deal Newton after 2016 for only adding $400,000 to their cap figure and subtracting $6 million from their cap figure if they cut/traded him after 2017.
In a lot of weird ways, Cam’s contract extension (and career) mirrors Matt Ryan. In fact, Cam’s contract is exactly $250,000 more lucrative than Ryan’s. Which is probably intentional on Cam and his agent’s part. And the payouts are very similar. At that time, the Falcons had more cause to give Ryan that massive extension. They were coming off of two good seasons and Ryan looked like a star QB for the next decade. Since then, he’s struggled for two straight seasons and fans/front office personnel alike are starting to grumble about Ryan’s contract being an albatross around the neck of the entire franchise. Will Cam’s contract be similar? So far, Cam’s done nothing to show otherwise. His passing stats and mechanics aren’t improving, he’s taking more sacks and is yielding less as a rushing QB. On top of this he’s only made the playoffs when his defense carried his offense to a division title (or in the case of 2014, when the NFC south should have been banished from the NFL for being so collectively poor). With Cam’s contract in place, the Panthers will start to make tough choices about which players to keep or not and it’s almost inevitable that Gettleman will have to breakup that talented defense to compensate for paying for Newton. This process appears to have already begun, with Greg Hardy being first off the poop deck (albeit his legal issues made that an easier decision for the team).
The reason this article calls Newton’s contract the worst in NFL history is because right now, it hamstrings a team with a player who’s underperformed such pay worse than any other contract in NFL history. Cam’s contract will take up almost 60-66 million in cap room from 2015-2017. That’s almost 13% of their overall cap during that time (with a 160ish million estimate of the salary cap in 2016 and 2017). And in 2017, they have Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Ryan Kalil coming up for new contracts. Is Cam Newton, so far, worth gutting your team over? Or better put: is Kyle Orton throwing the ball with some rushing ability or Ken O’Brien from 1985-87 worth gutting your team over? In a big way, this contract resembles the one that Albert Haynesworth got from the Washington Redskins. While Haynesworth was never a good fit in Washington, his contract put an expectation on him that he could never meet even if he was in the right scheme in DC. Even if he got 10 sacks a season and made all the rest of the defense around him better, it would be tough for him to justify his paycheck. Suh in Miami will under a similar dynamic for his new team. However, in Carolina the Panthers (front office and fans) now expect Cam Newton to be their franchise QB and so far in Cam’s career in the NFL he’s shown that he’s not going to fulfill that role for them. Certainly not to the level of a Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo who’ve all also gotten 100 million dollar extensions. At best he seems to be a middle of the pack QB who will need heavy support from the rest of the team to win much. And Carolina's decision to give him so much money wasn't made on the basis of sound football reasoning. It was made on the basis of fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the fans.