Cam Newton was the first overall draft pick in 2011. He was named the NFL’s most valuable player four years later, and led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl that same season. He has started 124 regular season games as well as seven playoff contests, and was voted to three Pro Bowls. He is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in league history. And yet, the free agency contract he signed with the New England Patriots is a bargain from the team’s perspective — especially considering Newton’s profile.
When he officially joined the Patriots this week, the 31-year-old signed a one-year deal that carries a salary cap hit of $1.14 million and the lowest possible base salary a player of his experience can get ($1.05 million). That said, Newton can earn up to $7.5 million through various incentives and roster bonuses. As a look at them shows, however, they essentially depend on him not just earning the starting quarterback job but also returning to his Pro Bowl form and leading New England to another championship.
As first reported by ESPN’s Field Yates, the incentives in the deal that go beyond his $1.05 million base salary — of which $550,000 are guaranteed — can be broken down as follows:
Roster bonuses: Newton will earn $43,750 for every game in which he is active during the regular season for a maximum of $700,000. Considering that he played in just two games last year, the majority of this bonus ($612,500) is classified as not likely to be earned (NLTBE). This means that the Patriots will lose additional cap space for every game that Newton spends on the active roster after his first two.
Playing-time incentives: Newton can earn up to $3.75 million in playing time incentives if he is able to reach the following escalators:
- 13%: $250,000
- 20%: $500,000
- 30%: $750,000
- 40%: $1 million
- 50%: 1.25 million
- 60%: $1.5 million ($1.75 million if the Patriots make the playoffs)
- 70%: $1.75 million ($2.25 million if the Patriots make the playoffs)
- 80%: $2 million ($3 million if the Patriots make the playoffs)
- 90%: $2.25 million ($3.75 million if the Patriots make the playoffs)
Given that Newton played 12.9 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps last year, all of his playing time incentives are currently falling under the NLTBE category.
Pro Bowl bonus: Newton will earn $500,000 if he is named to the Pro Bowl on first ballot.
All-Pro bonus: Newton will earn $500,000 if he is named to the first All-Pro team.
Playoff bonus: Newton could not just earn a higher share of the playing-time incentives if the Patriots make the playoffs, he would also earn additional money if the Patriots win postseason games and he is on the field for at least half of their offensive snaps:
- Wild card win: $250,000
- Divisional round win: $250,000
- AFC Championship win: $250,000
- Super Bowl win: $250,000
All in all, Newton can make an additional $1 million if New England performs well in the postseason and he earns regular playing time along the way.
As can be seen by the breakdown, the contract and its underlying structure makes it a “prove-it” deal from Newton’s perspective. If he can earn the starting role over second-year man Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, he should be able to position himself well to earn at least some of the escalators. If he can do that and lead New England to the postseason, he should come even closer to the maximum value of $7.5 million. And if he does, the Patriots gladly will pay him.