Most see Cam Newton in a Patriots uniform and arrive at the same question: How did the rest of the NFL let the 2015 league MVP fall into the lap of the team that had just lost Tom Brady in free agency?
This is a fair question since New England signed its starting quarterback so late in free agency and on such a cheap deal. But the details of that contract help explain what Bill Belichick and Co. were thinking when they ended the 31-year-old’s baffling unemployment.
MORE: List of NFL QBs making more than Newton
Almost 100 days passed from the day the Panthers released Newton on March 24 to the day the Patriots picked him up on July 8. The foot injury that ruined his final season in Carolina was a factor in his lengthy stay on the free agent market. But teams that could have upgraded their QB rooms were reluctant to sign him for reasons that were lazy at best and cowardly at worst.
So New England waited. It proceeded through the 2020 NFL Draft without selecting a quarterback and convinced the rest of the league it would enter the season with Jarrett Stidham and/or Brian Hoyer behind center.
What moved the Patriots to sign Newton is unclear even though at least one reason — that he’s an obvious upgrade over their other options — seems obvious. Newton’s contract is structured in a way that suggests New England was concerned about his recent injury history and ability to make it through a full season as the starter. The vast majority of his money can be earned through playing time incentives.
Below are the details of Newton’s contract with the Patriots. If he plays well in 2020, this deal will make him the NFL’s biggest bargain by a wide margin.
Cam Newton contract details
- Years: 1
- Total value: $1.75 million
- Max value: $7.5 million
- Guaranteed: $550,000
- Average per year: $1.75 million (No. 50 among QBs)
Newton agreed to a one-year deal with the Patriots in early July after going unsigned in free agency for a few months. And he signed for only $1.05 million in base salary, literally the lowest possible amount for a veteran who has been in the league as long as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was among those in the NFL questioning this deal, calling it “ridiculous” and “disgusting” that a player of Newton’s caliber would need to sign for the veteran minimum. Newton in an Instagram post insisted his Patriots signing was “not about money … it’s about respect.”
Shortly after news broke of Newton’s signing in New England, we learned the complete details of a deal that will pay him no less than $550,000 and no more than $7.5 million after he collected almost $17 million from the Panthers in 2019. Newton could be named first-team All-Pro in 2020 — in other words, the best quarterback in the NFL — and still not earn the maximum amount of money his contract offers.
More than $6 million of what Newton can earn on his one-year deal is baked into incentives. Below is the breakdown of those bonuses.
Per-game roster bonuses: $43,750 per game (up to $700,000)
Playing time incentives:
- 13 percent: $250,000
- 20 percent: $500,000
- 30 percent: $750,000
- 40 percent: $1 million
- 50 percent: $1.25 million
- 60 percent: $1.5 million ($2.25 million if Patriots make playoffs)
- 70 percent: $1.75 million ($2.25 million if Patriots make playoffs)
- 80 percent: $2 million ($3 million if Patriots make playoffs)
- 90 percent: $2.25 million ($3.75 million if Patriots make playoffs)
Pro Bowl bonus: $500,000
All-Pro bonus: $500,000
Playoff wins: $250,000 per win (if he plays 50 percent of game)
Included is an All-Pro bonus of $500,000. (The report did not specify whether Newton needs to be voted first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press specifically, rather than AP second-team All-Pro or Sports Grind Entertainment All-Pro.)
Newton has been voted first-team All-Pro once in his career, in 2015, when he also was voted NFL MVP and earned one of his three career Pro Bowl nods. With the Patriots, Newton also would get a bonus of $500,000 for making the Pro Bowl in 2020.
Newton earned a total of $121.934 million from the Panthers in nine seasons with Carolinat. He has not played a season for less than $15 million since the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2014, right before he signed a five-year extension with the Panthers and immediately led them to the Super Bowl.
Even if Newton were to somehow repeat the brilliance of that MVP season with the Patriots this year, he would earn less than a third of the $24 million he was paid in 2015.
The list of the NFL quarterbacks who could end up being paid more than Newton in 2020 based on the incentives he hits is massive, and it includes a handful of passers who have little-to-no chance of seeing the field this season.