My buddy Clip will shake his head as he reads this title. He isn’t a Panthers fan, but he doesn’t fall for the hyper-criticism surrounding Cam Newton that we have become accustomed to. He shakes his head at the hyperbole and dismisses almost entirely. He seems amused when it bothers me and I think he gets annoyed when I’m baited into rebutting every nonsensical argument like this one. He jokingly calls me “Cam Newton Mama Bear,” albeit I prefer “Cam Newton Secret Service.” (Hear us talk Cam Newton, Booger McFarland, and Derek Carr on 1250 Pirate Radio)
This week, Derek Carr inked 125 million dollar contract with the Raiders, making him the highest paid NFL player until the next mega-deal signed makes the next player the highest player. That player will then become the next great player whose value dictated the big bucks or, in other eyes, the next overpaid player who fleeced his organization. These competing narratives always exist. Sometimes, however, one narrative pervades louder than the other. It’s part of the news cycle, and it passes once the next contract comes.
If you can’t beat them join them?
Carr’s deal doesn’t bother me. Should he be the NFL’s highest-paid player? No, but it’s the way it goes and it will remain this way until the NFL hits some sort of contractual bubble that the league can’t sustain anymore.
What does irritate me is that the “Carr is overpaid” isn’t as strong as it was with Cam Newton. It’s there somewhat, but it is colored by headlines like “Derek Carr: Deal was Structured to Help Retain Our Stars.” Granted, Carr got ahead of the discussion by stating that it was important to him that his contract was fair but didn’t negatively impact the team’s future success. He definitely was prepared to shape the contract narrative positively.
But is this the only reason this overpaid narrative hasn’t emerged as strongly? Newton quietly negotiated his contract extension in Carolina. He stayed out of the process leaving it to the organization and his agent. The cries that Cam was “grossly overpaid,” however, were very loud—much louder than they are for Derek Carr. Newton’s contract instead was “so big over that time period that it hinders Carolina’s ability to bring in top-tier talent.”
Newton, unlike Carr, played on a team where the entire offense was shouldered by him. Carolina’s offensive line has been inconsistent at best. Yes, they have strengthened the interior over the past years, but the edges have been a problem. Carr plays behind arguably the league’s best offensive line and has Amari Cooper as a young dangerous receiver who is quickly becoming entering the discussion as elite.
This is where the narratives diverge, and maybe it is because Cam Newton was the #1 pick and has the opportunity to be a transformational player while Carr isn’t. The contract, however, pays him like it though.
The first split comes in the idea that Cam’s contract is a hindrance to the organization, impeding its ability to get better. His deal, however, was no less friendly than all of these other quarterbacks, including Carr. The next split comes in the idea that Cam hadn’t earned the contract yet. People pointed out that Carolina extended Cam after his worst season. Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski wrote, “Panthers brass should be tentative when it's time to officially offer a new mega-contract to a player whose overall play hasn't warranted it. Newton needs to show sustained improvement over a longer period of time before he can officially be considered a franchise quarterback.”
The offensive rookie of the year, the player who helped Carolina to two divisional championships, and first playoff win since 2008, all without any help or protection hadn’t done enough to prove himself. After just three years, Carr has—well enough to keep these voices at bay.
Carr’s last year was impressive in their 12-4 run. He was part of an Oakland Raiders team that was relevant in the first time that I can remember. But prior to 2016, Carr had played well, but not exceptional. He was on a team with limited talent and was getting better. One very successful year, however, showed the Raiders that they had a quarterback of a caliber they haven’t had in decades. This is OK logic for the Raiders and the pundits, but it wasn’t enough for Cam and the Panthers.
Carr’s contract is big. He’s now paid more than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton. He’s not better than any of them either, and that is OK. He may turn out to have a great career, but after just three years in he hasn’t become elite. The Raiders have struggled more than anyone to find an answer at the quarterback position. Carr is the best they’ve had in a long time and they certainly aren’t going to find any better on the open market. So paying him is what they wanted to do and what they needed to do.
It makes sense. It even sounds reasonable. The bar is set higher for Cam Newton still. “He’s not a leader” worth 118 million dollars. He still has something to prove before he can earn those 118 million dollars. His MVP trophy is a nice individual award, but he hasn’t hoisted a Lombardi like Brady and Rodgers, so he’s not worth it.
It won’t ever be enough. If and when Cam wins a Super Bowl, they will say it was because of the defense, because of the supporting cast, because……
By Tony Dunn
Follow @Cat_Chronicles for the latest Panthers news and opinions from the fan perspective.