- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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No need to panic.
No reason to think that it's a red-flag warning because the Panthers haven't initiated talks in the weeks since the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft became eligible to renegotiate.
The Panthers, sources said, haven't really begun negotiations on any contracts.
They are in the same boat as other teams financially strapped under the salary cap. There's not much they can do until the league officially sets the cap for 2014 in the next week or two.
Until then, it's hard to promise Newton or any of the team's 21 unrestricted free agents anything.
One of general manager Dave Gettleman's strengths is patience. He showed it last February when he didn't clean house with the coaching or scouting staff after replacing Marty Hurney. Gettleman showed it when he didn't replace head coach Ron Rivera when the Panthers were 0-2 or 1-3.
He showed it when he methodically restructured contracts to take the Panthers from more than $16 million over the salary cap to more than $15 million under it -- or more, depending on what the final cap number is, likely between $126 million and $128 million.
According to ESPN's Roster Management System, with a $6 million carryover, the Panthers could have as much as $28 million to play with based on a $128 million cap.
Regardless, when Gettleman said after the season he was going to take time to evaluate every player for the course of a 17-week season, he meant it. That he hasn't contacted free agents such as cornerback Captain Munnerlyn doesn't mean he's not interested.
It means the evaluation isn't over and -- again -- until there's a hard cap number there's no need to make empty promises.
Newton's situation is different. He has a year left on his original deal and the team still has the choice of picking up a fifth-year option that would extend it to two years.
Newton also doesn't need much evaluation. He proved his worth the past three seasons, particularly this past season in guiding Carolina to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title.
Gettleman and Rivera acknowledged that by saying the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was their franchise quarterback. They understand their quarterback is now on a path to becoming one of the league's elite players.
So Newton will get paid, whether that's with an extension this year or next.
Despite how well Munnerlyn played in 2013, the Panthers are looking to upgrade the secondary. They aren't looking to upgrade at quarterback, except maybe at the backup position with a draft pick or free agent.
So it's understandable if Munnerlyn is a little on edge that the Panthers haven't opened talks with his agent, although sources said that is expected to happen for him and others at the NFL combine in Indianapolis that begins Wednesday.
But when you look around the league, not a lot of teams have re-signed their own free agents at this point.
Defensive end Greg Hardy's situation is different, too. He proved his worth with a team-best 15 sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl. For him, it's a question of whether the Panthers can afford a new deal or the franchise tag that would cost them about $12 million -- or a huge hunk of their cap room.
This all figures into what the Panthers will do with Newton. Ideally, they'd like to get a new deal this year.
But if that hurts improving the team's chances of getting back to the playoffs, it's doubtful Newton would want that. The one thing he learned this past season is that the perception of a player's capabilities is much better when he's on a winning team.
Newton's contract probably wouldn't be a topic now if he wasn't asked Monday on the "Dan Patrick Show" if he planned to pressure Carolina into an extension with a holdout.
Not that he'd ever suggested a holdout was possible.
Newton, to his credit, handled the question with the poise that allowed him to generate last-minute, fourth-quarter comebacks against Miami, New England and New Orleans.
He said his priority was on taking his performance to the "marquee" level Carolina needs to avoid a letdown and take the next step in the playoffs.
He talked about being a leader, and how a holdout would send the wrong message to the rest of the team.
"I'm not worried about contract discussions right now," Newton said on the show. "My main focus is just becoming the better player I can become."
Newton shouldn't be worried. He's going to get his money.