By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said quarterback Cam Newton is a player he can build the franchise around.
But Gettleman is quick to add “but now it’s time to win.”
In Gettleman’s view, Newton has had the best first two seasons of any QB in NFL history, but said that gets lost on people “because of the elephant in the room, which is his 13-19 record” as a starter.
In two seasons Newton has thrown for 7,920 yards and 40 touchdowns with 29 interceptions. He’s also run for 1,447 yards and 22 TDs.
He was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011.
Newton’s contract runs through the 2014 season and Carolina has an option to pick up another year in 2015. The Panthers would also have the option to use the franchise tag on Newton in 2016 if they haven’t reached a long-term agreement prior to that point.
Gettleman said the Panthers are in no hurry to extend Newton’s contract right now.
“Technically you have rights to him for six years,” Gettleman said. “… I’m a big believer in letting nature take its course. Things will happen naturally.”
Newton has taken a good bit of criticism for his leadership ability during his first two seasons, but Gettleman doesn’t seem concerned about that.
He believes Newton will mature into an outstanding quarterback and team leader.
“It will take time,” Gettleman said. “I’m new and I’ve made some mistakes, too. I’ve had days here where I wanted to punch myself. (But) he is bright. He works his fanny off. There’s no reason that he can’t continue to ascend and I think he will.”
On the field, Gettleman said he couldn’t be more impressed with Newton, who has dropped about 12 pounds in preparation for this season.
Newton had a rough day on Tuesday, throwing a pair of interceptions during team drills but otherwise has been sharp since practice began last Friday.
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton was late on one throw to the sidelines that was intercepted and didn’t make the right read quick enough on another downfield pass resulting in a pick.
“Those are things we need to get corrected,” Rivera said.
Gettleman said people need to be patient with Newton and understand that he’s only in his third year and it takes time to adjust to playing quarterback in the NFL.
“He’s really physically gifted obviously,” Gettleman said. “He’s gotten better and he keeps improving. What you’re looking for is ascension, and he consistently does it. He’s had a good training camp. It’s a maturation process.”
Gettleman, who was hired away from the New York Giants in January, compares Newton to Eli Manning.
Manning was 12-11 in his first two seasons in New York, but didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth season when he led the Giants all the way to a Super Bowl championship.
“It was Eli’s fourth year and he really came on at playoff time and was a Pro Bowl quarterback,” Gettleman said. “So it takes time.”
Gettleman also knows that he needs to put the right pieces in place around Newton.
He said that has been a work in progress.
He inherited a team that was more than $16 million over the NFL salary cap. He asked several players with big deals to restructure their contracts and others to take outright pay cuts.
Gettleman said it wasn’t an easy task asking established players to take home less money, but said it was something that needed to be done for the team to get where it needs to go.
“Presented properly and being honest, being direct and laying the cards on the table and letting everyone step away and think about it, I think that was the key,” Gettleman said of his approach to asking players to reduce their pay. “I’m a very direct person. It’s the way I’m built. And I think players appreciate that. I’m honest and direct.”
Gettleman also had to make tough decisions to release starting cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker James Anderson.
Among the players who restructured their deals or took outright pay cuts this offseason included running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, offensive lineman Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil, tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Jon Beason.
“It tells me that guys understand the grass isn’t always greener,” Gettleman said. “This is a heck of an organization. Players are treated top shelf here.”
NOTES: Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and linebacker Jon Beason (knee) continue to be held out of practice. … The Panthers have Wednesday off.