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Should the Panthers be in a hurry to sign Newton to long-term deal?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Imagine the current negotiations between representatives for quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers as they talk long-term contract.

Newton's reps: "Cam has made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons and led the team to a 12-4 record in 2013."

General manager Dave Gettleman: "Yeah, but he's had only one winning season, his overall record is 28-28-1 and he is 0-1 in the playoffs."

Newton's reps: "But you let his top four wide receivers go during the offseason and weren't active in free agency to replace your retired left tackle and other members on that so-so offensive line."

Gettleman: "We drafted wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for him in the first round."

Newton's reps: "Have you noticed Benjamin's dropped a couple of sure touchdowns the past few weeks?"

Gettleman: "Did you notice Cam had nine overthrows against New Orleans on Thursday night?"

Gettleman was adamant before the season that Newton was Carolina's quarterback of the future and that at some point the team would sign him to a long-term deal. Nobody has said anything to suggest that's still not the case. But the longer Newton goes unsigned and the longer he and the Panthers (3-5-1) continue to struggle, the more critics will question his value and the urgency to get a deal done.

Newton is locked up through the 2015 season because Carolina exercised his fifth-year option during the offseason. Popular opinion in August was a new deal would be reached by the end of this season or soon after.

If Newton and the Panthers were having a stellar season there may be more urgency to get it done now. Waiting might only drive the price up. But now the price may be dropping. Newton has completed only 48.1 percent of his passes and thrown one touchdown to three interceptions in the last three games. He has only eight passing touchdowns to five interceptions on the season for a passer rating of 81.4 that would be a career low.

Knowing the way Gettleman has been so methodical in getting the salary cap under control, it's hard to imagine him rushing into a decision that will shape the future for six or more years to come.

It wouldn't be the worst idea to see how Newton performs in 2015 before making a long-term commitment. There's also the option of giving Newton the franchise tag for the 2016 season.

Newton might benefit from waiting, as well. He's not playing at a level to get Colin Kaepernick money (six years, $114 million). He's not even at Andy Dalton's level (six years, $96 million).

Newton consistently has said he is focused on this season and not worried about a new deal. That's where his focus should be. Gettleman has maintained his usual in-season silence. Odds are the two sides will reach an agreement during the offseason. Unless this season changes management's opinion, there's no need to go into next season with a lame-duck quarterback.

Judging Newton on this year's performance would be unfair. Peyton Manning would struggle behind this offensive line, particularly the one that started on Thursday night when Newton had a career low passer rating (39.5).

Newton may not be a top 10 quarterback right now, but he's still in the top 15. Before the offensive line and backfield became decimated by injuries he was throwing better than at any point in his career.

Replacing him and starting over could set the organization back another couple of years unless the Panthers stumbled into a gem as Seattle did with Russell Wilson.

Newton may be pressing and trying to do too much at the moment, but he's not alone. From linebacker Luke Kuechly on down, almost every player has pressed and made mistakes. Newton's mistakes are just the most visible because he's the quarterback. Everything Newton does is more visible than anybody on the roster. His visibility and marketability also brings the Panthers positive attention even when they aren't struggling. He helps sell tickets, too.

But ultimately, it's about winning. And whenever negotiations get serious, that is sure to be a big part of the conversation.