Why the Cam Newton-Panthers reunion is a bad idea for Carolina
Panthers fans clamoring for Cam Newton to return to the team as its starting quarterback are getting their wish. But they should have been a lot more careful about for what they just wished — now that’s true with Newton agreeing to return to the team and the NFL on a one-year deal.
With Sam Darnold on the shelf with a right shoulder injury , Carolina, at 4-5 and still in the NFC wild-card hunt, was desperate for a better QB situation at midseason than the combination of P.J. Walker and new signee Matt Barkley.
Looking at who’s available on the street, Newton felt like the only viable option, because he also was the most familiar option. But that’s the issue — the Panthers’ key braintrust of David Tepper, coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady have had their chances to re-sign Newton — not once, not twice, but thrice — and avoid the Bridgewater bump and Darnold disaster in the first place.
Adding Newton out of a dire necessity then is a bad idea, even if it brings up feel-good nostalgia for better QB days in the past, stamped by Newton’s MVP season in 2015 in which the Panthers won the NFC and played in Super Bowl 50.
MORE: Why the Panthers signed Cam Newton for a second act in Carolina
But that’s now six long seasons ago. Newton has been further worn down and is now a 32-year-old with a long history of injuries, a weaker arm and slower body. Newton isn’t about to magically turn back the clock as a passer and runner to carry Carolina, to the point he’s only a slight upgrade at best over Walker.
Bringing back Newton for a playoff long shot isn’t worth it because it doesn’t align with Panthers’ management that needs to look forward and put full focus on drafting a potential franchise QB in the first round in 2022 — which it should already have done with either the Bears’ Justin Fields or Newton’s Patriots’ upgrade and replacement, Mac Jones, at No. 8 overall in 2021.
The Panthers have tried to put duct tape at QB for two seasons running and it’s held the team back in its rebuild. Carolina might think it’s a wild-card contender, but that’s silly to consider at the moment with Tom Brady and Tampa Bay dominating, Sean Payton and New Orleans still being better and Matt Ryan and Atlanta also starting to figure more things out. The Buccaneers, Saints and Falcons are all in current NFC playoff positions.
Carolina might be realizing it needs some fan buzz for the rest of the season given the team’s postseason prospects aren’t real and Walker would have removed the team further from the NFL national radar. Tepper’s bottom line is always the bottom line. Having Newton wasn’t convenient or smart then, but it is now? Tepper also threw a ridiculous amount of money for Newton short-term, up to $10 million with $4.5 million guaranteed and a $1.5 million roster bonus.
MORE: Here is the Panthers’ depth chart after Cam Newton signing
The interest in Newton is more publicity stunt than effective football move. It’s nice that GM Scott Fitterer has been more aggressive with trading for and adding players, but everyone else could sense that Darnold would flop in Charlotte as much as he did in New York as an all-out QB draft bust. It’s tough to believe in the QB-addressing judgment of the organization based on recent decisions.
Will Newton flash some of his old “Superman” self wearing No. 1 for the Panthers? Sure. He did that for the Patriots, too, but ultimately he wasn’t effective and struggled to stay healthy and productive enough. The Patriots fell rather short of the playoffs with a similar 2020 makeup with Newton, but are well positioned for a wild card going from Newton to Mac Jones.
The Panthers signing Newton isn’t on the level of the Jaguars bringing Tim Tebow as a tight end to training camp, but it’s a lot closer than you think. For Newton, it’s great because he gets to come back into the league with good money when it looked like his career might be done. So good for him for milking the Panthers, who rudely dismissed him and couldn’t replace him with either Bridgewater or Darnold.
Newton might get to find some closure in Carolina with this move. Meanwhile, the Panthers have opened up a different can of worms at the game’s most important position, scrambling for a solution that isn’t there anymore.