CHARLOTTE, N.C. » Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman believes Cam Newton can lead the Panthers to "the Promised Land" so he made the fifth-year quarterback the highest-paid player in franchise history.
He’ll get no argument from Newton.
"I feel like I can get us there as well," Newton said of leading the Panthers to their first Super Bowl title. "They’re not saying anything I don’t think myself."
Nearly two years after raising questions about his belief in Newton when he paused seven seconds before answering a question about whether he was a franchise quarterback, Gettleman made a huge commitment to the former No. 1 overall draft pick.
Newton signed a franchise record $103.8 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, capping 11 days of negotiations.
He will earn $67.6 million over the first three years, the most money ever paid to an NFL player during the first three years of a contract, said a person familiar with negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the financial terms of the extension have not been released.
Newton’s contract is the largest ever doled out by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson since the team started in 1995 and will keep the 26-year-old quarterback under contract through the 2020 season.
"I told you guys when I first walked in the door — after my seven-second pregnant pause — that he was a franchise quarterback, and nothing has changed," Gettleman said.
Newton, wearing a Panthers-blue suit with a matching tie and lapel flower, was all smiles on Wednesday. He planned to celebrate his new contract by cracking open a carton of milk, mixing in some Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and "getting ready for practice" on Wednesday.
"Nothing about this contract changes my approach to the game," Newton said.
Several of Newton’s teammates took to Twitter on Tuesday night to congratulate him, including tight end Greg Olsen, who wrote: "Very much deserved buddy. Look forward to even bigger things this year!"
Newton said the news hasn’t settled in and that he never thought he’d sign a contract in excess of $100 million.
"There were so many times I questioned is this really what I wanted to do, and am I good enough to have everything that I dreamed for?" Newton said. "I can honestly say with hard work and dedication and an unbelievable supporting cast, you can get there."
Newton has been to two Pro Bowls and led Carolina to back-to-back NFC South championships since the Panthers made him the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Newton started immediately as a rookie, taking over a team that went 2-14 in 2010.
It took four seasons, but Newton finally got his first playoff win last year when the Panthers beat Arizona 27-16 in the NFC wild card playoffs. He is 30-31-1 as a starter with a 1-2 mark in the postseason.
Since 2011, Newton has a quarterback rating of 85.4, which ranks 19th in the NFL, according to STATS. Newton’s 82 touchdown passes are 14th most in the NFL and he leads all QBs with 33 TDs rushing.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’s thrilled to have Newton on board long term and to have the deal out of the way. Newton was set to become a free agent after this season.
"I think we are setting ourselves up to be in a good position where we can limit the distractions when we get to training camp," Rivera said.
The Panthers now need to do a better job of protecting their biggest asset. Newton has been sacked 152 times in the past four seasons, tied with Alex Smith for most in the league.
Newton suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 season.
— He missed most of the offseason workouts and minicamps following ankle surgery.
— After returning Newton fractured two ribs during a preseason game and missed the regular season opener against Tampa Bay.
— And when the Panthers were in the midst of a late playoff push, Newton flipped his truck in an automobile accident near the team’s stadium resulting in two fractured bones in his lower back.
The Panthers finished 7-8-1 last season but still won the NFC South. Gettleman felt Newton’s effort last season spoke volumes about him as a player.
"If you think of all of the things he went through, and the team went through, it just cemented the way I felt about him," Gettleman said. "He’s gifted and he’s a worker and (the game) is important to him. That’s why we did this deal. We believe he will take us to the Promised Land."