The Carolina Panthers officially released Cam Newton, a week after announcing they were moving from their franchise quarterback. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a disappointing ending for Newton, who had been with the team for nine seasons.
Newton won the 2015 NFL MVP while taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl, which they lost to the Broncos. He got the Panthers back to the playoffs in 2017, then started 6-2 in 2018 before injuring his throwing shoulder. He played another six games, losing all of them, before his season was shut down with two weeks left. He entered 2019 relatively healthy, but only made it two games before injuring his foot. Newton never saw the field again.
The writing was on the wall the Panthers were going to make this move when Ron Rivera was fired in early December. Newton was drafted by Rivera, who allowed Mike Shula to design an offense that perfectly fit the quarterback’s unique abilities. Even when Norv Turner took over the offense, there was some flair to the offense otherwise not in the Turner playbook beforehand. It did not make sense for new Panthers coach Matt Rhule to have to inherited Newton, when he should be allowed choose his quarterback.
Rhule ended up doing it with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater. Factor in Newton’s questionable health concerns, and this was happening.
So the question is what is next for Newton?
There are two main reasons Newton hasn’t found a new team yet
If Newton is healthy, he’s an excellent choice for a team looking for a starter. Look back to 2018, when he was healthy for the first eight games of the season. He was playing at a high level then. He completed 67 percent of his passes, way more than his career average, which hovers around 60 percent. He threw for 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, with a passer rating of 100.8 and an adjusted yards per attempt at 7.65, good for 15th in the NFL.
This was all in a new offense, too. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times, it takes 8-10 weeks to get a new offense going in the regular season. So in theory, the offense should have continued to improve with a healthy Newton, who got injured in their ninth game of the season against the Steelers. He played through it, but it wasn’t pretty. Then, his 2019 season lasted just two games due to his foot injury.
While Newton’s camp will tell you he’s healthy — and there’s no reason not to believe them — his injury history is why teams haven’t signed him yet. It was announced that Newton received a physical in Atlanta and he was cleared:
Cam Newton had a physical in Atlanta yesterday coordinated by the Panthers and his agency team, per sources. Newton passed the physical and is healthy, per source, with both his shoulder and foot “checking out well and he is hungrier than ever and eager for the next opportunity.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 24, 2020
But the bar for clearing those physicals isn’t that high. There’s also incentive for both the team and the player to have that physical turn out this way.
For Newton, he wants to be released after passing his physical, as it’s a sign to the rest of the league he’s healthy. For the Panthers, if Newton is released with a failed physical designation, he’s eligible for a potential injury protection claim if he was physically unable to play in 2020 because of a 2019 season injury. That would cost Carolina $1.2 million. That’s not much money for an NFL team, but I’ve yet to find one that wants to pay a player when it doesn’t need to.
With the Covid-19 virus shutting down business around the world, the NFL recently decided to follow suit. It’s not possible for any player, including Newton, to get a physical in the city of the team pursuing his services. Even though he has passed the physical in Atlanta, teams want their own eyes and hands on Newton. Their doctors will need to look over the information and do their own tests on him. I know it sounds silly they wouldn’t trust independent doctors, but with the investment in a player of Newton’s caliber, they want their own people on it.
This is the biggest reason, in my opinion, Newton hasn’t signed anywhere yet. This holdup is real and when the travel restrictions get eased up, he will be able to get a proper physical.
One other reason he hasn’t been signed yet is the lack of destinations that need a starter like Newton. Provided he is healthy, he’s easily a starter in the NFL and he shouldn’t sign to be a backup. Also, Newton doesn’t strike me as quarterback who wants to mentor younger players, so I’m not sure a backup role is something he’d excel at.
It’s worth pointing out, as I do often, it’s not required a veteran quarterback be a mentor. We’ve seen Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger, just to name a few, who have publicly stated they don’t want such a role. That doesn’t mean they will flat out refuse to help a younger quarterback, but they aren’t going out of their way to make it happen.
So it makes sense Newton would want a starting job. That leaves one big question: but where?
There are two teams that seem like the best fit for Newton
Only two teams come to mind as places Newton would start now.
The Jacksonville Jaguars moved Nick Foles to the Bears and appear ready to ride with second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew. Newton is better than Minshew and could allow the Jaguars to make a playoff run. But, if they are committed to seeing who Minshew is, then Newton doesn’t fit there.
The other obvious team is the Los Angeles Chargers, currently with Tyrod Taylor sitting atop the depth chart. The Chargers also own the sixth pick in the draft, which could be used for a quarterback like Justin Herbert or Jordan Love, or packaged to move up for Tua Tagovailoa. The Chargers have a choice to make: either roll with a rookie at No. 6, or sign Newton and draft a left tackle. It’d be poor team-building for the Chargers to sign Newton, and then draft a quarterback in the first round.
Are they signing Newton to a one-year deal? Then why even bother? Just stick with Taylor and insert the young quarterback in the middle of the season. You’re either signing Newton to a multi-year deal, or drafting a young quarterback. They shouldn’t, and I doubt they would, do both.
People have floated the New England Patriots as a place for Newton, since they seem to need a long-term solution at quarterback. I do not see the fit. First, Bill Belichick has generally drafted or signed the same style of quarterback for years: a pure pocket passer. Newton showed improvement under Turner, but we know that’s not always his game. It is unfair to label him a “running QB,” though. But as I’ve written before, Newton plays better when he incorporates some rushing into his game.
Secondly, Belichick does not like players to have their own personalities and strong interests off the field. Tom Brady was able to get away with TB12 because he’s won six rings with Belichick. So for those two reasons, I see the Patriots as an unlikely destination.
Newton still has it. He can and should be a starter in the NFL. However, a potential destination for him being held up by a lack of available landing spots and the ability to get a physical by a team looking to sign him.