Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a couple of columns in support of the Carolina Panthers’ GM.
I think Dave Gettleman has done a very good job — especially given the tough situation into which he walked.
Gettleman didn’t overspend on Jonathan Stewart, Deangelo Williams and Charles Johnson, but he had to figure out how to field a team with little space left under the salary cap.
Good cap management has allowed the Panthers to give a big contract to their franchise quarterback. The question now is: Did Gettleman make his first big mistake?
Two years from now will we be talking about how Gettleman hamstrung the team by giving too much money to a subpar player?
In negotiating with Cam Newton on a massive new deal, Gettleman repeatedly used the phrase “franchise quarterback,” but now Newton needs to step up and show that he truly is one.
Cam was a huge splash in college, leading his team to a national title and winning the Heisman trophy. Then in his first season with the Panthers, Cam broke all kinds of records including most passing yards in his first start, most passing yards for a rookie, most rushing TDs by a QB, and most combined TDs for a rookie.
With a start like that, few were concerned about his throwing issues. Since then, however, Newton’s passing yardage has dropped every year. His yards per attempt has dropped in each of the past two years.
Sure, he had excuses this past season. He was slow recovering from ankle surgery to start the year. Then he had cracked ribs in the preseason and the bad wreck and the cracked spinal processes in December.
In between those things, however, Cam had a lot of mediocre games.
Let’s look back, over the first month of the season, Cam didn’t run, but posted passer ratings that were ahead of his career average.
Then in week five he rushed for 107 yards and was supposedly back to full health. After that time, however, his passing fell off.
Not surprisingly, with Cam struggling, the team lost six straight games. In that span, Cam threw nine of his 12 interceptions, against just six TDs. His completion percentage was among the lowest in the league for the season, but it was even worse during the losing streak.
Just when it looked like the season was lost, Cam had three strong games to finish the season. Two of those three games he finished with a passer rating of more than 100.
Yes, Cam had excuses not to succeed, but so did a lot of other quarterbacks with better numbers.
Cam finished 26th in passer rating. He was lower than some QBs who are fighting for a starting spot this season like Mark Sanchez, Kyle Orton, Austin Davis and Shaun Hill. He was barely better than Drew Stanton and Geno Smith.
His completion percentage was even worse, down at 29th. He trailed Geno Smith and even Blake Bortles.
And when he did complete passes, he didn’t exactly pick up yards in chunks, ranking 25th in yards per attempt. For example, Drew Stanton and Brian Hoyer had worse completion rates, but still averaged more yards per attempt, which means the balls they DID complete were for bigger chunks.
Anyone who has watched the Panthers knows that Cam’s problems stem from two areas. One, he tends to throw every ball like he needs to thread the needle. He doesn’t use enough touch to drop balls in between defenders.
And two, he has a regular tendency to throw the ball too high.
It’s a bit alarming that going into his fifth year, Cam’s issues are still there. In fact, rather than fix the throwing problems, the Panthers have instead turned the receiving corps into an NBA team. Between the receivers and tight ends, the Panthers have eight players who stand 6-foot-4 or taller, plus 6-foot-3 Brenton Bersin and 6-foot-2 Jarrett Boykin who are battling it out for a roster spot.
If he can’t get the ball lower, the Panthers will just reach higher.
Let me say that I’m not one of those who think that Cam is unworthy of a starting spot. I believe Cam just needed time to mature and learn NFL offenses and defense to be effective. In his fifth season, though, he needs to show some improvement, not regression.
Otherwise, that massive five-year, $103.8 million contract will be an anchor that weighs the team down for years to come.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.