The duo, who teamed up for an NFC Championship and NFL MVP award back in 2015, were separated temporarily by Newton’s foot injury earlier in the year and then permanently by Rivera’s firing after Week 13. That move may just be the beginning of a sweeping overhaul in Charlotte. Team owner David Tepper, who took control of the franchise in 2018, may use his coach’s departure as the catalyst for a teardown in hopes of building a Super Bowl contender.
That could include saying goodbye Newton, who recently elected to undergo surgery to fix the Lisfranc injury that kept him from all but two games this season. The former All-Pro only has one year remaining on his contract for a relatively affordable (for an above-average starting quarterback) $21.1 million. He can be released while leaving just $2 million in commitments toward Carolina’s 2020 salary cap.
A full recovery will push him to the forefront of a surprisingly stacked group of available veteran passers in the offseason. Newton will be an experienced plug-and-play option who can be the missing link for a team on the brink of contention. At worst, he’ll be a high-value backup plan and mentor for an unexperienced young passer.
There are several clubs who could use Newton, even if he never returns to that 2015 peak. Where would his talents best be utilized?
The best landing spot for Newton in 2020 — assuming Tom Brady doesn’t retire this offseason — would be a a roster filled with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Newton would inherit an offense Mitchell Trubisky failed to get off the ground consistently and give Chicago its best quarterback since ... early stage Jay Cutler? Jim McMahon? Bill Wade?
The Bears’ offense, once designed to aid Trubisky’s development as a passer, is loaded with athletes who can create separation both near the line of scrimmage and downfield. Newton would have the chance to throw the ball to targets like Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, and Tarik Cohen. Tailback David Montgomery, solid in spurts as a rookie, would also find new room to run against defenses who no longer just shrug and throw eight defenders into the box against a completely underwhelming QB.
Newton’s dual-threat capabilities would also fit in with the offensive vibe that helped win Chicago an NFC North title in 2018. That fall, Trubisky ran for 421 yards on 6.2 yards per carry. Newton, who averaged 625 rushing yards per 16-game season over his first eight seasons in the league, could ratchet that unpredictable run game to new heights, creating even more opportunities for his targets.
Then you’ve got the defense, which was phenomenal in ‘18 but has had its energy sapped by an offense known for its three-and-outs this season. The Bears still have a championship-caliber unit there, which means Newton wouldn’t have to win many shootouts in order to return to the postseason.
It’s not a perfect fit, and there are still several questions Newton has to answer about his future. Even so, he would be an upgrade over Trubisky and make Rivera’s eventual transition to Chicago head coach (ETA: 2021) even more obvious. Newton may not be a long-term answer for the Bears, but he’s the right guy to keep their championship window propped open for a few extra seasons. — Christian D’Andrea
In the same vein as the Bears, it feels like the Broncos have too much talent to flounder without a quarterback. John Elway tried to go out and get a veteran guy by trading for Joe Flacco, but that that wasn’t working even before Flacco went on injured reserve. While the pairing of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on defense should be the cornerstone of a playoff-bound team, the pass rush was slow and inconsistent to start the season. Then the injury bug hit and Chubb was lost for the season.
Vic Fangio is a defensive-minded coach who will likely have that unit in shape next season, provided Miller stays with the team. But he needs a reliable quarterback he doesn’t have to handhold through the season, and Newton is exactly that player.
He is much better than Flacco when he’s healthy, and would instantly make Denver a force on offense. He would break the procession of failed quarterback experiments and probably save Elway’s career — if Newton can remain healthy, that is. His health will be the biggest issue for every team that considers him for 2020.
There are two significant issues for the Broncos at this stage. The first is their financial commitment to Flacco.
When Flacco joined the Broncos, he was on a team-friendly contract that would have let Denver release him without penalty after 2019 or 2020. But the team quickly restructured Flacco’s deal to give them more space in 2019, and in doing so shifted a bunch of money to next year’s cap, which would mean his release before June 2020 would come with a dead money charge of $13.6 million.
The second issue is that offensively, the Broncos are a mess pretty much everywhere. Running back may be the most settles position, and that’s with the Phillip Lindsay leading the way. Royce Freeman has been lackluster behind him.
At wide receiver, Courtland Sutton is good, but it’s a ghost town behind him. Tight end Noah Fant is coming along, but the Broncos really need a blocker there, too. The offensive line has been bad this season, and that’s a concern with Newton’s injury history.
It’s not like the market is bursting with high-level quarterbacks, though. Through these injuries, it seems like Newton’s actual value as a quarterback has been overlooked. The Broncos need something, anything to give the offense a boost. Newton would be an excellent boost, and give more time for rookie quarterback Drew Lock to develop. — James Brady
There’s no need to overthink this for the Panthers. They have a franchise quarterback. Before Newton, they never had a franchise quarterback. This doesn’t need to be a situation they willingly screw up.
Sure, Newton is recovering from Lisfranc surgery, but by all reports it was only a minor surgery. If there’s only a 20 percent chance he can fully recover, it’s still a more reliable chance to have a franchise QB than hoping to find one in them middle of the first round.
Conventional thinking dictates that new coach = new quarterback, but I’ll wager anyone the Panthers hire will be smart enough to know what they have on the roster already. There are still needs to fill on the offensive line and with the defensive backs, meaning addressing those early and gambling on Cam is a more likely path to quick success.
There are plenty of exciting places Newton could end up, and that says something in itself. He’s still good enough to make an impact in the NFL when healthy. I don’t want to see the Panthers screw this up. — James Dator
Jameis Winston will become a free agent in 2020, and there’s not exactly an overwhelming reason for Bruce Arians to keep him around. While his overall passing numbers haven’t been terrible throughout his career, has been the league’s most turnover-prone quarterback, with 78 career interceptions and 50 fumbles. He has just one winning season to his name, going 9-7 in 2016.
So it wouldn’t be too surprising if the team wants to move on from him, especially considering how noncommittal Arians has been toward Winston’s future in Tampa.
If that does happen, Newton would be a positive alternative for the Bucs. For starters, the sheer talent Newton would have around him including the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard would be a huge improvement from what he had in Carolina.
The Bucs tweaking their offense fit more of Newton’s skillset than Winston’s — a big one being Newton’s ability on the run — could pay off big time for Tampa Bay. Newton has been to four postseason appearances, one of those being a Super Bowl. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and Newton just might be the guy to turn that around. — Morgan Moriarty
There’s a very real chance that Philip Rivers is down to his last month in the NFL. Only Jameis Winston has thrown more interceptions than Rivers in 2019 and the Chargers just keep finding ways to lose close games. Rivers’ contract expires in the spring and now seems like a good time for the team to move on from its longtime starter.
The problem is there’s nobody waiting in the wings to take over under center. The Chargers may wind up with a top-10 draft pick, but that might not be enough to secure a rookie quarterback capable of starting right away.
A bridge starter is probably a necessity, and Newton would fit the bill perfectly. He’d inherit an offense that has plenty of tools already in place. Although running back Melvin Gordon seems likely leave in free agency, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are both under contract through the 2020 season. Running back Austin Ekeler will be easy to retain as a restricted free agent.
The Chargers are too talented on both sides of the ball to sit on their hands and wait for a rookie quarterback to find his footing. A veteran starter with more gas in the tank than Rivers could make the team a winner.
It’d help too if the Chargers injected a little excitement into the roster ahead of a move into their brand new, nearly $5 billion home, SoFi Stadium. Attendance has been a serious issue for the franchise and adding a former MVP and Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback could inspire some more fans to watch the Chargers. — Adam Stites