Panthers ownership was unsure about giving Cam Newton another big extension even before foot issue
David Tepper had put the quarterback position under review after purchasing the team in 2018
Cam Newton's long-term future with the Carolina Panthers has been talked about in organizations around the league this week, with the former Most Valuable Player put on injured reserve. However, sources said Newton's ability to land another lucrative contract extension with new owner David Tepper was in question long before that.
Tepper, who purchased the team for roughly $2.3 billion in May of 2018, told associates at the time of the transaction that he was unsure about whether Newton would prove to merit another top-of-market contract and was interested to see how the quarterback would fare. He had some reservations about the prospect of a new deal even then, sources said, and considered that position to be under review as he evaluated the entire organization and decided where to begin making changes.
Tepper's initial efforts focused on the business side of the franchise, but 2020 was always going to be an imperative offseason for the owner, with Newton and coach Ron Rivera both going into the final years of their existing contracts, which were negotiated prior to the sale of the team. Newton has been healthy for roughly half a season since Tepper purchased the franchise, with a significant shoulder injury limiting him in the second half of 2018, and him playing just two games this season -- both while hurt -- due to a foot sprain that has now ended his season.
Newton, 30, shined in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system for the first two months of the 2018 season, but at this point there is no set date as to when he will recover from his foot injury, and he has lost his last eight starts with the team dating back to last November.
Youngster Kyle Allen has led the team well in Newton's absence. Allen is an exclusive rights free agent in 2020, who can be retained for just $585,000, while several executives I spoke to believe Newton's $19 million salary for 2020 would be easy to trade -- barring serious lingering health issues -- and would fetch several high picks in return. One general manager suggested Alex Smith's trade from the 49ers to the Chiefs as potentially comparable (Kansas City parted with two second-round picks), while others suggested Newton would command at least a first-round pick.
Regardless, there will be a trade market for Newton if the Panthers opt to go that route. Tepper has brought a heavy emphasis on analytics and data-driven decision-making to the organization; it's worth noting that many in that community espouse the deep benefits of building a team around a quarterback on an entry-level contract. Tepper, a long-time minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will invariably put more of his imprint in the football operations department at some point, and moving forward with a lame-duck quarterback and head coach may not be tenable.
The quarterback market is expected to be robust in 2020, with supply exceeding demand. Potential free-agent quarterbacks include Philip Rivers, who played at North Carolina State, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady, while veteran Andy Dalton will seek and most certainly be granted a trade from the Bengals.
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