The 2015 NFL MVP could be a casualty of owner David Tepper’s rebuild. With head coach Ron Rivera (fired), tight end Greg Olsen (released), and linebacker Luke Kuechly (retired) all no longer in Carolina, cutting or trading Newton may be the next step in the franchise’s teardown. And on March 17, the Panthers officially announced they would allow him to seek a trade.
The move puts Newton at a crossroad. The once-indestructible quarterback missed 14 games due to a foot injury and didn’t look like himself in the two starts he did make. With just one season left on Newton’s five-year, $103 million contract extension, Tepper will have to make a decision about the quarterback’s future, and soon.
Parting ways with Newton would save the Panthers $19 million in cap room. With limited spending space this spring, casting off the quarterback is one way for Carolina to be a major player in free agency.
Newton might be available this offseason. Here are the four destinations that would be most attractive to him, sorted by fit.
The best place to prove he can be an effective deep-ball passer: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Newton is in his 30s. He can’t just shrug off injuries and plow through 16-plus games every year anymore. After eight seasons of above-average production on the ground, his running may be more of a complementary piece of his game rather than a focus.
Newton will have to prove he’s capable of making big throws from the pocket to restore his value as a quarterback. This could be a problem; he’s rarely been a proficient deep-ball passer. Over the past five seasons, he’s completed more than 28 percent of his throws of 20+ yards downfield only once — back in his 2015 MVP campaign.
The Buccaneers could use a quarterback with Jameis Winston’s future currently undecided. Moving to Tampa would pair Newton up with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the game.
Evans has gained at least 1,000 yards in each season of his career. Over the last two years, his average target came more than 15 yards downfield. Godwin had more receiving yards than all but two other players in 2019 and has recorded just four drops in his three seasons. If Newton wants two players who can help him shine as a pocket passer, Tampa’s the place to go.
Chance it happens: 2/10
Bruce Arians likes reclamation projects, whether it’s Winston or Carson Palmer before him. Newton has enough left in the tank, if fully healthy, to make Arians look like a genius. While Philip Rivers is the obvious local option, Newton could provide the biggest upside for the Buccaneers’ offense.
Like the Saints, this possibility is only happening if Newton is released — the Panthers would not trade their longtime quarterback to another NFC South team.
The best place for his legacy: Carolina Panthers
Newton is the winningest quarterback in Carolina history. He’s the franchise’s leading passer and the only Panther to win an NFL MVP award. The team’s only back-to-back playoff appearances have come under its dual-threat QB.
Carolina still needs a quarterback, too. Newton’s absence last season led to diminishing returns from Kyle Allen and an unimpressive performance from 2019 draft pick Will Grier. If Newton can return to full health and put together even a career-average season, he would be a better use of $22 million than most of the options the club could sign in free agency.
The Panthers can also give Newton some help. They have two building blocks in McCaffrey and budding wideout D.J. Moore, who had 1,175 receiving yards in his second year in 2019.
Last year’s 5-11 season also hands the Panthers some solid draft capital that could be used on skill players. Adding an impact tight end to replace the since-released Greg Olsen and some extra receivers to stretch the field alongside Moore could be all it takes to bring the Panthers (and Newton) back to prominence.
Chance it happens: .05/10
Although it appeared as if Tepper was willing to consider a totally recovered Newton, he seems intend on a regime shift. Shortly after the Panthers announced they were granting Netwon the permission to seek a trade on Instagram, Newton made it clear that he didn’t want to be traded:
With Tom Brady announcing he’s moving on from New England the same day, it’s not too surprising that some big quarterback changes around the league are being considered.
The best place to make a young QB look bad: Chicago Bears
Bears general manager Ryan Pace says Mitchell Trubisky is the team’s starting quarterback for 2020. Given Trubisky’s regression last fall, it’s tough to take that statement at face value.
Newton could be in play, either via trade or after a possible release. Adding a veteran more explosive than career backup Chase Daniel could spur some competitive development from the former No. 2 overall pick. More importantly, it would give a ready-built playoff team a useful second option in case Trubisky, for lack of a better word, sucks again in 2020.
Newton would take over an offense with more talent than its 2019 season indicates. Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel were all brought to town to help Trubisky, and they could thrive alongside a quarterback like Newton. David Montgomery showed flashes of being a true RB1 as a rookie. Tarik Cohen is no McCaffrey, but he’s still a weapon out of the backfield who adds an extra dimension to the passing game.
Newton would also have a playoff defense — with Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, and Roquan Smith — to bolster him for any low-scoring affairs.
Chance it happens: 2/10
In one year, the Bears fell from NFC North champs to 8-8. Trubisky was the biggest single factor in that backslide. Pace knows his championship window is closing, and limited cap space means it would be difficult to add a higher-profile QB to push or replace Trubisky this offseason. Sniping Newton would take some work and eat into that space, but it could be his best option to relive the highs of 2018.
The best place to piss off the rest of the NFL: New England Patriots
New England is officially in the market for a starting quarterback. Brady’s departure leaves the Patriots with Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler in their QB room. A healthy Newton would allow Bill Belichick to swap out his classic pocket passer for a young, more mobile model.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has done an admirable job of devising a gameplan that allowed an aging Brady to thrive into his 40s. Newton would provide a different kind of challenge. He’s a less accurate, more turnover-prone quarterback than the one he’d be replacing. He also adds an extra dimension on the ground in ways his stiff-legged predecessor never could.
Chance it happens: 5/10
Newton could be the kind of veteran who revives his career at Gillette Stadium — but his struggles as a pocket passer and the Patriots’ lack of receiving help could make this a rough fit for both parties.