After going 5-11 last season and firing head coach Ron Rivera, the Carolina Panthers have made it all but clear that they’re focused on the bigger picture—on potentially rebuilding.
Does this latest reboot include quarterback Cam Newton, who missed a majority of last season with a foot injury? That’s a question everyone around the NFL is asking.
Newton is just 30 years old and a former MVP. He should still be considered in the thick of his prime. And yet, he hasn’t looked right over the past two seasons, in part because he’s been dealing with injuries and because Carolina’s offensive line has been rather blah. But he also has a lot of wear and tear on him for someone his age.
Mobile quarterbacks always take more of a beating compared to straight pocket passers. Newton is arguably worse off. The Panthers leaned on his ground playmaking so hard for so many years that many are worried he doesn’t have the potential to be the same player upon return.
Whether Panthers cut the cord with Newton has less to do with their own inclinations and more about the potential opportunities that may or may not be in front of them.
First and foremost, they don’t have a successor in place. Nor do they have a clear line to getting one of the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft. Joe Burrow is a lock to end up with the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1, and at least one other under-center playmaker will be off the board by the time the Panthers are on the clock with the seventh-overall pick.
If the Panthers are able to trade up—perhaps while using Newton as bait—to select a more promising back, that will render them more likely to move on entirely. Then again, not so many of the teams in front of them will be inclined to go after a win-now QB. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers are a possibility, but they’re selecting fifth and sixth overall, respectively. Jumping up a spot or two may not help the Panthers all that much.
Any deal Carolina makes to move up will probably have to be made independent of Newton. Maybe the Washington Redskins (No. 2) or Detroit Lions (No. 3) are willing to drop down the order a little bit if the Panthers include a future pick or promising prospect.
This is all to say we can’t be sure what happens with Newton in Carolina. His future is up in the air, and neither he nor the team has a clear grasp of what might come next.