Last but certainly not least, Part 9 of my position-by-position analysis of the Carolina Panthers' roster focuses on the position where the starter likes to mock Superman after touchdowns.
Yes, Cam Newton.
Next up: Quarterback
2013 grade: B-minus. This was Newton's coming out party as a winning NFL quarterback. Although his total yards passing and rushing were down, he had a career-best 24 passing touchdowns and became much improved at game management.
Under contract (2014 salary cap number): Cam Newton ($7,008,113). Total: ($7,008,113).
Key free agents: Derek Anderson.
Good news: Newton has emerged into a group of the top quarterbacks behind the elite group of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. He matured as a player who is capable of leading the team to last-minute, game-winning touchdowns as he did against Miami, New England and New Orleans. General manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera don't hesitate to call him their franchise quarterback. He should only get better when surrounded by more weapons.
Bad news: That Newton's contract situation is getting so much attention. He still has a year left on his initial deal, although he is eligible for an extension and deserves one based on performance. A tight salary cap makes it difficult, but regardless the focus should be on improving and not money. I can't really say there's bad news that Newton's backup (Anderson) is a free agent, because Anderson barely has gotten on the field the past three seasons. And it appears the Panthers will be able to re-sign Anderson to a reasonable deal if he wants to return.
The draft: It may be time to use a late-round pick to groom behind Newton. There's nothing wrong with Anderson, but his style is completely different because of the running element Newton brings. A player such as Clemson's Tajh Boyd is projected to be around in the fifth round. He has many of the same qualities Newton has as a runner. Or maybe a James Franklin of Missouri, although he wasn't quite as prolific as a runner at Missouri.