- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2020

Back in March, it was an easy joke. When the Carolina Panthers released Cam Newton, some observers predicted New England would wait out the market before signing the quarterback for peanuts — a classic Patriots move.

The real punchline came Sunday, though, when Newton and the Patriots announced the two sides had agreed on a one-year deal.

Richard Sherman isn’t laughing.

The San Francisco 49ers cornerback called Newton’s contract “just ridiculous,” suggesting the former MVP is vastly underpaid compared to counterparts around the league. With an incentive-heavy structure, Newton can earn up to $7.5 million, but the contract reportedly contains only a minimum $1 million base salary.

“How many former League MVPs have had to sign for the min? (Asking for a friend.) Just ridiculous,” Sherman tweeted Monday. “A transcendent talent and less talented QBs are getting 15/16 (million) a year. Disgusting.”

The market for Newton was quiet this offseason, in part, because of the uncertainties surrounding his health. Coming off a season-ending foot injury, Newton was limited to just two games in 2019 and has also dealt with a series of shoulder injuries throughout his career. Newton was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2018 — affecting his ability to throw downfield — and underwent surgery at the end of the season, his second shoulder operation in three years. 

But Newton has insisted he is now healthy, uploading videos of him working out as a way to try and prove it. At his peak, Newton was an electric dual-threat whose legs were as much of a weapon as his arm. His best season came in 2015, when he was the overwhelming choice for league MVP after leading the 15-1 Panthers to the Super Bowl.  

Since 2011, when Newton was drafted first overall, the 31-year-old has amassed the 12th-most passing yards (29,041) and the 16th-most rushing yards (4,806). 

Despite the pedigree, Newton ended up with less money than most of the other quarterbacks who signed new deals this offseason. The Panthers replaced Newton with veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who signed for three years, $63 million ($33 million guaranteed). Tom Brady left New England for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a two-year, $50 million deal (all guaranteed), while the Indianapolis Colts brought in Phillip Rivers on a one-year, $25 million contract.

There are even backups making more than the minimum. The Las Vegas Raiders signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $17.6 million contract with $7.5 million in guarantees. The Cleveland Browns signed former Redskins starter Case Keenum to a three-year, $18 million ($6 million guaranteed) contract to sit behind Baker Mayfield. And journeyman Chase Daniel went to Detroit on a three-year, $13 million ($5 million guaranteed) deal.

Other notable quarterbacks to change teams include Andy Dalton (one year, $3 million)  and Nick Foles (three years, $24 million), who are now in Dallas and Chicago respectively. 

Even if Newton earns the full $7.5 million, his salary would still rank only 27th among quarterbacks, according to Over The Cap. 

Sherman’s tweet, meanwhile, elicited a wide array of reactions. “Totally agree,” former Ravens safety Eric Weddle tweeted.

Former quarterback Kurt Warner replied with an emoji of a man raising his hand, referring to when the two-time MVP signed with the New York Giants for just two years, $9.5 million in 2003. While that was more than the minimum, it was a sharp pay cut from the seven-year, $47 million extension he signed with the Rams in 2000. (The Rams released Warner three years into the deal).

One fan noted running backs like Adrian Peterson and Shaun Alexander were former MVPs who settled for the minimum later on in their careers (Both for the Redskins, ironically).

In the long run, the Patriots could be just what Newton needs to restore his career. The team retains a strong offensive line and defense — important for any quarterback’s success. And coach Bill Belichick, with his eight Super Bowl rings (two as coordinator for the Giants), has a well-earned reputation of tailoring his scheme to a player’s strengths. Oddsmakers now peg Newton as the favorite (+340) to win Comeback Player of the Year. 

Perhaps the ideal model for Newton is Ryan Tannehill. Last year, the former Dolphins starter was traded to the Tennesee Titans and restructured his contract to $7 million for one year. But after taking over midseason and leading the Titans to the AFC Championship, Tannehill re-signed with Tennesee on a four-year, $118 million contract. 

Of course, even if things go well, who knows if the Patriots would be willing to commit that type of money to Newton in the long term. The Patriots rarely splurge on big-name free agents, and their model of success was helped over the years by convincing Brady to take discount after discount. 

But for now, Newton was willing to take a prove-it deal. It’s up to him to make the rest of the league regret it. 


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