The Cam Newton era in Carolina is ending on a sad note. The Panthers are set to release their former MVP, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:
The #Panthers are expected to release QB Cam Newton as soon as today, sources tell me and @MikeGarafolo.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 24, 2020
This whole situation is bizarre, and it took a while to get to this point. Here’s the basic timeline of this roller coaster:
- Last year in training camp, Newton’s bum shoulder was under a spotlight as he recovered from a 2018 injury.
- Once the season began, it was clear Newton wasn’t himself—thanks to the shoulder and a Lisfranc injury in his foot—and the team benched him after two starts.
- In November, the team put Newton on injured reserve.
- In December, Newton underwent surgery to repair his foot.
- Also in December, the Panthers were reportedly toying with the idea of trading the passer, but only for a “large deal.”
- And in February, owner David Tepper said that he was concerned about Newton’s health.
- But just a few weeks later, a sign of life! At the NFL combine, the Panthers and new head coach Matt Rhule said they were impressed by Newton’s rehab and were ready to commit to him as their starting quarterback.
- And then things took a huge turn in March, when out of the blue the Panthers gave Newton permission to seek a trade (which Newton said he didn’t even want).
That leads us to here, with the 2011 no. 1 pick set to be a free agent for the first time in his career. It’s the end of an era in Carolina, with the team moving on from the greatest quarterback in franchise history.
It’s a strange end to his tenure with the team he led to three NFC South titles and a Super Bowl following the 2015 season. It may read like it’s been a long downward spiral, but this fell apart fast. After last season, the team moved on from longtime head coach Ron Rivera and now won’t even commit to Newton and his $20 million cap hit for next year. Newton was on the last year of his deal, which could have made 2020 a “prove it” year for the passer. Instead, the Panthers would rather cut bait and see what they have in Teddy Bridgewater, whom they signed to a three-year deal on March 17. They say it’s better to commit to the oft-injured QB you know than the one you don’t, but with Bridgewater, the Panthers are doing the latter. Bridgewater is healthy now, of course, while it’s unclear where Newton is in his recovery—but it’s still jarring to see the team straight up cut the most important passer in franchise history.
Health is still the top question for Newton as he hits the market. Despite Rhule’s comments at the combine, it’s not clear how his rehab is progressing. In February, Ian Rapoport said it would be “several months” before Newton would be game ready, so even if his recovery is going well, he’s not ready to put on pads. And the current coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible for teams to have their doctors administer physicals, further complicating the market for Newton. That may be why the team couldn’t find a trade partner for him, but it’s still stunning that Carolina got a fifth-round pick for Kyle Allen and nothing for Newton.
It’s not like Newton was in decline before the injuries, either. Newton had a pretty good season in 2018, completing 67.9 percent of his passes (a career high by far) for 3,395 yards and 24 touchdowns in 14 games. He added another 488 yards and four scores on the ground. Though his team went 6-8 in his starts and he failed to make the Pro Bowl, there are some teams in the league who would be desperate for a quarterback to put up those kinds of numbers—to say nothing about the fact that a healthy Newton brings MVP potential with him to any destination.
But the market for him appears to be shrinking. Washington, who hired Rivera as head coach in December, just traded for Allen, so the Redskins seem to be an unlikely landing spot for Newton despite that connection. The Bears reportedly weren’t interested in a trade for Newton, and after dealing for Nick Foles it’s unlikely that they’d sign him now. The Buccaneers and Colts each have their quarterbacks. The Chargers have said they want to go forward with journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, which makes them an obvious candidate for an upgrade—but that could come through the draft, where they hold the no. 6 pick, and not free agency. The Dolphins, who pick at no. 5, also seem more likely to go with a rookie passer than with Newton.
Which leaves a terrifying thought: Could Newton go to the Patriots? A creative mind like Bill Belichick would surely love to have him—but it’s always hard to predict what moves will be made in New England. They might like Brian Hoyer more than Newton, and Newton’s medicals hang like a cloud over everything, anyway.
With all the twists and turns the Newton saga has taken so far, the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know what will happen next.