As unspectacular as Cam Newton’s first quarter of work was (2-of-6, 17 yards passing, 2-16 rushing and a field goal drive), Panthers fans can take solace in the fact he’ll have plenty of time to get acclimated.
That’s partly because with this afternoon’s five-year, $36.5 million contract extension for backup running back Jonathan Stewart, this is the Panthers offense for at least the next three years, as constructed by General Manager Marty Hurney.
Every Panthers offensive starter is under contract through at least 2013, and nine of them through at least the 2014 season. With only right tackle Byron Bell and second wideout Brandon LaFell having as few as two years left on their deals, the Panthers are assured a degree of certainty until it’s time to write that big extension for Newton two years from now.
So as much heat as they’ll take for spending so much money on running backs, the reality is, there’s a cost-certainty for an offense that ranked fifth in points and seventh in yards with a rookie quarterback and no offseason with which to work with him.
The offensive line will be the next area to get retooled, but that’s with left tackle Jordan Gross and right guard Geoff Hangartner’s deals expiring in 2014.
All the ball-handlers other than Newton and LaFell (which means Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Stewart, Mike Tolbert and Greg Olsen) are under contract through at least 2015.
That’s quite a departure from the John Fox years, when the big investments were on the other side of the ball, and offense was something they tolerated because they had to. This team, as presently constructed, is more like the Peyton Manning-Bill Polian Colts, where the big money’s on offense and you hope for enough defense to get by.
It’s a departure from what the Panthers have put on the field in the past, but at least they’ll know what to look for the next several seasons, and can only hope Newton continues to improve.