SPARTANBURG — While Panthers quarterback Cam Newton spoke to the media Friday at Wofford’s student center, a flat-screen TV behind him showed “SportsCenter” highlights.
Every so often, news of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s new contract scrolled across the bottom of the screen. A few minutes into Newton’s media session, someone asked about the $100 million contract for Ryan, the latest quarterback to cash in with a mega deal since the end of last season.
Newton responded with a wry smile.
“I didn’t think anything,” Newton said. “Good for him, but nothing more than that.”
Newton missed out on tens of millions of dollars as the first No. 1 pick to sign under the new collective bargaining agreement, which in theory was designed to steer more money to veterans rather than unproven rookies.
Newton signed a guaranteed four-year, $22 million deal in 2011 that includes a club option for a fifth year. Compare that to the six-year, $78 million contract Sam Bradford received as the No. 1 pick in 2010.
Even as Baltimore Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (six years, $120.6 million), Aaron Rodgers (five years, $110 million), Matthew Stafford (three-year extension worth $53 million) and Ryan (five years, $103.75 million) broke the bank, Newton said he has more pressing concerns than his next contract.
“The only thing that’s on my mind right now is a three-letter word. I think y’all know what that three-letter word is,” said Newton, referring to his desire to win.
Newton already has at least seven league records, breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie passing mark in 2011 and amassing more passing yards (7,920) than any quarterback in his first two seasons.
But he is 13-19 as a starter and has yet to appear in a playoff game.
While Newton emphasized his commitment to winning, he did not share any goals he might have set.
“It’s easy for people to just go and shoot off goals that they want, and I think it would be cliché right now,” he said. “For us it’s going to be hard work and dedication.”
That work is with a new offensive coordinator, albeit one Newton knows well. Mike Shula was the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach before being promoted when Rob Chudzinski left to become Cleveland’s coach.
“I feel like he’s going to give us an advantage. Not taking anything away from Chud, but coach Shula knows the personnel, rather than bringing in a new guy,” Newton said. “He’s been unbelievable, been great.”
As the Panthers get into the meat of their training camp practices, observers are interested in seeing what the offense looks like under Shula, particularly the running game. Newton rushed for 741 yards last season and became the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.
But it came with a cost. According to ESPN, Newton was hit or sacked while throwing or rushing 162 times in 2012, 40 more times than the next closest quarterback, Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck.
Shula has indicated he plans to rely more on a traditional rushing attack, similar to what the Panthers used near the end of last season, and less on the zone read.
But fullback Mike Tolbert believes keeping the read option will remain an important piece of the playbook.
“With the athletic capabilities of our quarterback, it opens up so much more in our offense than the normal quarterback. It’s something we have a lot of fun with,” Tolbert said. “And with his capabilities, he can run the ball. He can throw the ball. He probably could punt the ball. He can do it all. It opens up a wide range of things that we can do.”
For his part, Newton said he’s not afraid of the punishment.
“It’s all in the game. It’s a contact sport. It’s a physical sport,” he said. “Let’s not get jaded by the fact that, yeah, I had the ball in my hands a lot of times. But that’s not the point. I’m in the business (of) whatever it takes to win football games.”