CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has no doubts Cam Newton is a franchise quarterback, and he emphatically said so Tuesday — and this time without any hesitation.
"Yes," Gettleman said definitively, then with a smile added, "No seven-second pause, was there?"
Gettleman created a little controversy during training camp when he was asked the same question but paused to think before throwing his weight behind Newton. On Tuesday, Gettleman made it clear that Newton — and coach Ron Rivera — figure into the team's long term plans.
Back in August, Gettleman said Newton had to prove he could win.
The former Heisman Trophy winner did just that this season, leading the Panthers to the NFC South championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs before being bounced from the postseason by the San Francisco 49ers.
Gettleman said Newton proved to him that he is a franchise quarterback.
"He proved it this year," the GM said. "He flat proved it."
Carolina's big season couldn't have come at a better time for Rivera, who was on the hot seat after a 1-3 start.
Rivera is entering the final year of his contract, so it's likely the team will look to extend his deal this offseason.
"I have the ultimate faith in Ron," Gettleman said. "... We were 12-4, NFC South champs. I think I'm pretty pleased" with his effort.
Gettleman wouldn't discuss the contract situation for Newton or Rivera.
With Newton's third NFL season complete, the Panthers can now sign him to a long-term contract extension.
His contract is set to expire after the 2014 season, but the Panthers can exercise an option for a fifth year in 2015 by agreeing to pay the two-time Pro Bowler an average salary equal to that of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. The Panthers have until May 3 to make that decision.
Rivera has previously said Newton has shown "substantial progress" this season, throwing for 3,379 yards and a career-high 24 touchdowns while leading the Panthers to a 12-5 record. He also ran for 585 yards and six TDs.
Gettleman said the team's overall salary cap picture will factor into what happens this offseason.