When Cam Newton signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots last summer, he essentially bet on himself. The deal was low on guarantees but included various escalators to possibly push its value from $1.05 million up to $7.5 million. Newton did not reach the final incentive levels of the pact, but after starting 15 games during the 2020 season still managed to earn $3.96 million.
Fast forward to this offseason, and you see Newton sign a similar deal. While both the base and the maximum values are considerably higher than a year ago, the structure is not much different and again built around incentives and bonuses. The 31-year-old quarterback is therefore once again betting on himself.
Newton signed a one-year deal that includes only $3.5 million in guarantees, but has a value of up to $13.6 million. As a look at all the necessary thresholds shows, however, all of the bonuses and incentives essentially depend on him not just keeping the Patriots’ starting quarterback job but also returning to his Pro Bowl form and leading the team back to a championship — all while coming off a disappointing 2020 season.
As first reported by the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, the incentives in the deal that go beyond his fully guaranteed $1.5 million base salary and $2 million signing bonus can be broken down as follows:
Roster bonuses: Newton will earn $88,235.29 for every game in which he is active during the regular season. The maximum value of this bonus is $1.5 million, which is not based on a 16-game season: the Patriots apparently expect the NFL to move to a 17-game format this fall. Regardless of how many chances Newton will have to earn that bonus money, the majority of it ($1.3 million) is classified as likely to be earned (LTBE) after he played 15 games last season. This means that the Patriots will lose further cap space for every additional contest that Newton spends on the active roster.
Playing-time incentives: Newton can earn up to $3.5 million in playing time incentives if he is able to reach the following escalators and the team also plays its part:
- $500,000 for 60 percent of snaps
- $1 million for 90 percent of snaps
- $500,000 for 60 percent and the Patriots make the playoffs
- $500,000 for 70 percent and the Patriots make the playoffs
- $500,000 for 80 percent and the Patriots make the playoffs
- $500,000 for 90 percent and the Patriots make the playoffs
Given that Newton played 86.7 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps last year and did not lead the team to the postseason, at least five of the six escalators will be considered not likely to be earned. As Miguel Benzan pointed out on Twitter, however, the 60 percent level could end up being categorized differently. If that is the case, and the NFL indeed moves to a 17-game season in 2021, Cam Newton’s cap number will end up being $5.32 million.
Pro Bowl bonus: Newton will earn $500,000 if he is named to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot.
All-Pro bonus: Newton will earn $500,000 if he is named to the first or second All-Pro team.
Postseason awards: If the Patriots make it into the playoffs and Newton ends up playing a considerable role in the tournament, he can add further money built into his contract. The three playoff escalators are as follows:
- $500,000 for each playoff win that he plays at least 50 percent of snaps in (maximum $1.5 million)
- $1.5 million for winning and playing at least 50 percent of snaps in the Super Bowl
- $1 million for being named Super Bowl MVP
All in all, Newton can make an additional $4 million if New England performs well in the postseason and he earns regular playing time along the way.
Workout bonus: Newton will earn $100,000 if he meets the workout standards defined in the contract.
As can be seen by the breakdown, the contract and its underlying structure makes it another “prove-it” deal from Newton’s perspective even though its value is higher than last year’s across the board. If he can keep the starting role over the team’s other quarterbacks — Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala — as well as any other offseason additions, however, he should be able to position himself well to earn at least some of the escalators and increase the value of his contract.
If he can do that and lead New England to the postseason, he should come even closer to the maximum value of $13.6 million. And if he does just that, the Patriots will have gotten themselves a steal at a salary cap number of just around $5 million.
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