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Cam Newton’s breakup from the Panthers shouldn’t have to be this messy

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Newton has been with Carolina his entire NFL career.

The Carolina Panthers are moving on from Cam Newton. Before the official start of free agency, the team announced it was granting Newton permission to seek a trade.

However, Newton says he didn’t actually want to be traded by the Panthers. After the team posted the announcement on Instagram, Newton commented with his signature, weird font that they “forced me into this”:

Screenshot via @panthers on Instagram

Former Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, now with the Seahawks, also replied to the Panthers’ post with “sounds familiar.”

Although Newton is still under contract for the 2020 season, the Panthers are in rebuild mode. They already fired head coach Ron Rivera and replaced him with Matt Rhule, released Olsen, and linebacker Luke Kuechly retired. Newton is next on the list.

If Newton doesn’t garner interest from other teams, the Panthers could release him and save $19.1 million in cap space. Team owner David Tepper’s statement on Newton’s trade made it clear Newton’s time was coming to an end, one way or another, with his “I wish him all the best” comment:

In fact, Carolina has already moved on, picking Teddy Bridgewater as Newton’s replacement. The Panthers have reportedly agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with the 27-year-old quarterback. He spent the last two seasons backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans. When Brees missed time with a thumb injury last season, Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter coming off the bench. His performance made him worthy of earning a full-time starting job.

Carolina has a right to move on from Newton. He only played in two games last year due to a foot injury, and he missed another two games in 2018 because of a shoulder injury. Newton’s contract was pricey, and his current deal only went through the 2020 season. The new coaching staff — including OC Joe Brady, who worked with Bridgewater in New Orleans in 2018 — likely wanted a say in the direction the team would go under center.

Still, it’s not surprising Newton would be unhappy with Carolina’s decision. Newton has been with the Panthers his entire career since they drafted him at No. 1 overall in 2011. He’s the franchise’s winningest quarterback in history, and he’s the only Carolina player to win an NFL MVP award. He also led the team to three straight postseason appearances from 2013-15 and helped the Panthers get to the Super Bowl in 2015. The Panthers even sounded committed to having Newton in their future in late February.

He’s also done some incredible things for the local Charlotte community — he donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to local kids in need each year around the holidays. His Cam Newton Foundation serves the city, as well. Having his time in Charlotte end on a sour note probably isn’t how Newton ever imagined this would go down.

But there are reasons to be optimistic about Newton’s future. He has a chance to hit the reset button wherever he ends up. He’s just 30 years old, and as long as he stays healthy, he can be a high-quality starter in the NFL. He’s been one of the NFL’s best ever dual-threat quarterbacks (he holds the record for rushing TDs by a QB), and even if his foot won’t give him as much mobility as before, he should still be able to make plays. If he has to spend more time in the pocket, he can point to his 2018 season — when he put a career-high 77.5 percent of his throws on target, ninth-best in the NFL that year — as proof he can still thrive as a dropback passer and evolve into his 30s.

There are a number of possibilities that would make sense, as long as Newton passes his physical. That includes Tampa Bay, Chicago, or even New England, since Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot.

Newton will have a chance at redemption wherever he signs. Still, after everything Newton did for Carolina, the Panthers could have given him a more respectful exit.