It’s no surprise Cam Newton’s tenure in Carolina has come to an end. There’s no shortage of justifiable reasons why the Panthers would decide to go in a new direction, but what is out of place is just how messy, dirty and unfair this all feels. So dirty, in fact, that it’s removed the luster and excitement from a new era of football in Charlotte.
The NFL is risk-averse to a point where we’re flummoxed when a team takes a chance, celebrating it like the second coming. This is the core of the Newton conundrum: With coach Ron Rivera out and Matt Rhule in, there was little doubt that eventually he would want to put his mark on the organization by selecting his own coaching staff and quarterback. It might be nonsensical, especially when you have a former MVP on the roster, but there’s an ever-present stoicism in the league that demands a coach to live and die by their own sword, in their own way. That’s true even when it seems like the prudent thing to do is to keep a franchise player like Newton, despite the risk.
That said, considering Newton was coming off a season-ending injury, and really hadn’t looked like himself for 18 months, there’s plenty of salient justification for why moving on makes sense. Newton had just one year left on his contract, making the prospect of re-signing him to a big deal risky. That’s before we discuss the ins and outs of whether Rhule believed Newton was capable of running the offense he and offensive coordinator Joe Brady wanted to install.
Instead of making the obvious move and letting people understand this, the Panthers out-and-out lied about Newton’s intentions, indicating the quarterback wanted a trade when there’s no evidence he did. Newton vehemently denies the team’s verbiage on this and did so on their Instagram post about moving on from the veteran quarterback.
On Tuesday the Panthers announced they had released Newton, recieving nothing in return for the best quarterback the team has ever had. It’s a pattern for the organization, grooming players into All-Pro caliber talents, then getting absolutely nothing when they leave. Newton follows in the footsteps of Josh Norman in that regard, and the Panthers deserve being mocked for yet another blunder.
Of course, this isn’t to take anything away from Teddy Bridgewater either, who the Panthers signed to be their starter. The story of Bridgewater and Newton are inexorably linked, but don’t need to be interconnected. Bridgewater earned his shot to be an NFL starter again, Newton deserved a chance to prove he can still be the guy — and those two elements can coexist.
Here lies the great disconnect between those who have watched Newton play for his entire NFL career in Carolina, and those who only catch the highlights and eccentric outfits. Contrary to popular belief, Newton is not a liar. There exists a false narrative that he is a diva, a prima donna, a me-first player who wouldn’t dive on a fumble in the Super Bowl and who’s always trying to look out for No. 1. There’s no denying Newton has been a lightning rod for his entire football playing career, from Florida to Auburn to the NFL, and that naturally led to many people disliking him. With that comes attention, and there’s always money to be made off of attention, good or bad.
The reality is nobody has more of a right to be furious with the Panthers organization than Newton. His best football playing years were wasted by an organization with a revolving door of offensive coordinators and a receiving corps that actually put Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess on a marquee. Week in, week out, nobody was asked to do more with less than Newton. And despite all of this, he consistently took responsibility for the team’s failures and did what all quarterbacks are asked to do: lead, both on the field and off. The Panthers never had a franchise quarterback until Newton was drafted; they also never had a player as committed to community outreach.
That should mean something. All of this should mean something. Whether parting ways with Newton now was the correct decision is immaterial in the grand scheme of things. The Panthers treated Newton like he was disposable and didn’t have enough grace to acknowledge they wanted to go in a different direction. He deserved better.
Instead they tried to blame Newton, something the quarterback did to himself for years when things didn’t go well. The Panthers were foolish enough to think we’d buy it.