The Carolina Panthers clearly like quarterback Cam Newton. They like him so much so, that they’ve already exercised his 2015 team option, worth $14.67 million. The move locks Newton in as a Panther for the next two seasons, and gives the two sides two full years to work out a long-term contract agreement.

This was a move that was always expected to be made, as Newton has solidified himself as a true franchise quarterback with steady progression as a starter. His progression was so good, in fact, that the Panthers won their most games (12) since he was drafted number one overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Carolina also claimed the NFC South division title in 2013, while earning a first round playoff bye and lost a close game to the San Francisco 49ers.

Newton will earn just over $3 million in 2014 as he continues to play under his rookie deal, but will make $14.67 million in 2015 if he and the Panthers are unable to come to a contract agreement. That isn’t expected to be an issue, however, as Newton figures to be far and away Carolina’s number one priority. In fact, Newton is highly expected to get a new deal by next off-season, if not even this summer.

The Panthers have risen from the ashes with Newton under center, showing competitive play in his first two seasons, despite failing to reach the playoffs both years. Newton showed improved control and decision-making in year three, though, completing a career high 61.7% of his passes, while throwing 24 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. Newton also continued to be one of the league’s most entertaining and dynamic performers, as he topped 580 rushing yards for the third season in a row and also found the end-zone with his legs six times.

Newton stormed onto the NFL scene as a rookie, scoring an NFL record 14 rushing touchdowns (for quarterbacks). While Newton is sure to get locked up with a new deal within the next two summers, his 2014 carries some question marks. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith was let go and he currently has no big name targets at the wide receiver position.

Knowing his 2014 season could be affected by a lack of proven options in the passing game, Newton and his camp may be best served to expedite contract talks sooner, rather than later.

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