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Cam Newton and the Panthers Are Splitting Up—and Not Amicably

Carolina announced Tuesday that the team is allowing its star QB to look for trade options. And the Panthers didn’t waste any time finding his replacement.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Like a villain on Dragon Ball Z, this NFL free agency period just keeps evolving. Hours after Tom Brady posted that he won’t re-sign with New England, another star quarterback became available. The Panthers announced Tuesday that they’re working with Cam Newton to find a trade destination for the veteran quarterback:

Newton quickly responded on Instagram and—if you can read his criminal font choice—said he wasn’t the one asking for a trade:

There will be time for the tea to spill in the coming days, but regardless of what caused this schism, Newton will be dealt. Any team that trades for Newton will get a QB who’s a one-of-a-kind talent and a former MVP. Passers like that rarely become available.

With only one year left on his current contract, Newton’s trade value will be limited. Any deal for the 30-year-old would require an extension almost immediately. Of course, that means the team that trades for him won’t have to give up such a large haul of draft picks or other assets—but it’s still a concern. And hardly the only one.

Newton spent all last offseason rehabbing an injured shoulder, and he managed to start the Panthers’ first two games of the season. But that shoulder injury and a lingering ankle issue popped back up, and Carolina was forced to shut Newton down for the rest of the year. In February, Panthers owner David Tepper said that Newton’s health was his main concern with the quarterback, though the franchise still seemed committed to him. There were reports that his rehab was coming along well, and that new coach Matt Rhule wanted to work with Newton. Suddenly, that’s all unraveled.

Now, where will the quarterback go? The Buccaneers have reportedly been pursuing Tom Brady, which indicates they don’t want to retain Jameis Winston, but the Panthers probably won’t trade Newton to an NFC South rival.

The Bears are an obvious potential landing spot. So far, Chicago has reportedly looked into Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles, and Andy Dalton this offseason. Despite a disappointing 2019 season, that roster is built to win now. The Bears retained an excellent defense last offseason despite losing coordinator Vic Fangio to Denver, and they have plenty of skill position talent with receivers like Allen Robinson (1,147 yards in 2019) and Anthony Miller (656). Head coach Matt Nagy is a creative offensive play-caller who likes to bust out exotic formations, and he’d have a lot of fun deploying Newton.

The Chargers are another obvious contender. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry, that roster is loaded with skill-position talent. Any quarterback would love to helm that group. And per Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, the coaching staff is interested in getting a passer who can move:

L.A.’s pass-blocking was subpar last season, and that’s a concern for a quarterback who hasn’t been able to stay healthy recently. If the Chargers could address the offensive line, though, there would be few better landing spots.

Then there’s the Patriots. With Brady announcing that he plans to skip town, New England needs a replacement. A trade for Newton is the type of wild swing Bill Belichick doesn’t usually make—but then again Belichick has never been in this situation before. And we know Belichick would have fun with Newton.

Meanwhile, Carolina found their Newton replacement within a matter of hours. The team is reportedly close to a three-year, $60 million deal with Saints passer Teddy Bridgewater. That contract would likely mean the end of Kyle Allen’s and Will Grier’s competition for a starting job in Charlotte.

If health isn’t currently a major concern in Newton’s case, it’s not clear how Bridgewater could be an upgrade. He has comfort in OC Joe Brady’s system and likely comes cheaper than Cam would, but in five games as the Saints’ starter last season, Bridgewater was, well, fine. He averaged 241 passing yards per game with nine total touchdowns and two interceptions. His ANY/A of 6.7 would have ranked 12th among all qualified quarterbacks, and he was 19th in Pro Football Focus’s QB grades. He was also throwing to Michael Thomas in the Saints’ supercharged offense, and it’s worth noting that Drew Brees ranked much higher than Bridgewater in both ANY/A (third) and PFF grade (second).

Bridgewater was allergic to throwing the football deep last season—he passed more than 20 yards downfield on just 7.1 percent of his attempts, one of the lowest marks in the league, per PFF. That reliance on short and intermediate routes is partially due to the Saints offense, as Brees rarely went deep as well, but it’s something that Bridgewater will likely need to add in Carolina.

And Bridgewater carries his own injury concerns. His horrific, non-contact ACL tear in the 2016 offseason kept him off the field for a stunning 19 months, and it’s been a slow road back to a starting job, with backup stops in New York and New Orleans before this latest contract. Bridgwater showed promise in Minnesota before that injury—but that was so long ago now that it might not even matter.

It’s perplexing for the Panthers to move on from Newton just a few weeks after committing to him. But Bridgewater seems to be the future in Carolina—and Newton is looking elsewhere.