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After Newton, Panthers’ Norman hopes he’s next in line for big deal

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The Sports Xchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — We are only a few days into June, but we might have already seen the Carolina Panthers’ biggest story of the offseason.

Quarterback Cam Newton’s $103.8 million extension came together sooner than many expected, and the buzz from Tuesday’s signing continued through Thursday’s OTA practice session.

“I think that’s something that needed to happen,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “You’ve got a great quarterback; you’ve need to make sure he’s around.”

Said cornerback Josh Norman: “Oooh, that’s a big number. But you know what, he played for it. He’s been a starter since Day One. He did what he had to do, and he’s getting paid for it.”

Norman, entering the final year of his rookie contract, will make nearly three times what he was paid in 2014. Because he played at least 35 percent of defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, he earned a raise that jumped his salary to $1.54 million.

But after performing as well as any corner in the league in the second half of last season, he would like to join Newton in the long-term deal club.

“Yeah, who is next?” Norman said with a laugh. “A lot of stuff is on my mind, but to talk to you guys about it, I will not.”

The Panthers want to see Norman put together a full season as a top-notch corner before they commit top-shelf money.

The answer to the “who’s next” question is Kuechly, at least from the Panthers’ perspective. Now that they know what they’re paying Newton, they want to lock up the NFL’s best middle linebacker.

Kuechly is in the final season of his four-year, $12.6 million rookie deal, and the 24-year-old stands to make at least that much annually when he gets his extension.

But whenever the contract question comes up, he will continue to deliver his perfectly Kuechly answer: “I’m just out here running around, playing football, and we’ll see what happens.”

–Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson racked up 62.5 sacks, 203 tackles, 16 forced fumbles and 21 pass breakups in his eight-year career, but never had an interception. But the man nicknamed “Big Money” provided the biggest highlight of Thursday’s OTA practice, snagging a pick from the guy now making even bigger money.

–The Panthers spent a good chunk of the day working on their two-minute offense, and Newton had already found Ted Ginn and Devin Funchess for touchdowns. After each, Newton made a vocal sprint to the end zone to celebrate with his receivers.

Then, on the opening play of the first-team offense’s fourth two-minute drive, Newton flicked a dump-off pass to fullback Mike Tolbert. That’s when the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Johnson jumped and snared the ball with one hand. Almost immediately — like it was a game of hot potato — he tossed it back to Newton. And as the defense celebrated, they let Newton know about it.

“Any time you get a pick on Cam, you’ve got to have fun with it, ’cause if he scores, he’s going to have fun, right?” Johnson said.

But you didn’t want to keep the ball?

“Let him have it, tell him get back and do it again,” Johnson said. “He was a little salty about that. Any time a D-lineman catches a pick on a quarterback, they’re going to be salty.”

–Hamstrings continue to be the Panthers’ biggest injury issue. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and cornerbacks Bene Benwikere and Garry Peters all missed another week of OTAs because of sore hamstrings.


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