By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Cam Newton may have played his final game as a member of the Carolina Panthers. For the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, for the 2015 NFL MVP, for the franchise leader in every passing category on the books, that’s a statement that would have been stunning to read as recently as … well, the current day.
Nevertheless, it appears to be the case, as Newton was placed on injured reserve this week, effectively ending his season. And with just one year left on his contract, it’s possible if not likely that the Panthers decide to move on. As ESPN’s David Newton (no relation) breaks down, cutting ties with Newton would make sense for the Panthers for a multitude of reasons. Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer wrote a story that carried this headline: “Cam Newton shouldn’t play another game in a Panthers uniform — and that’s hard to say.” Nate Davis at USA Today anticipates Newton’s career to hit a crossroads this offseason.
And with that crossroads upcoming … and with Bill Belichick facing an uncertain quarterback situation in New England for the first time in 20 years … how could your imagination not lead to the picture of Cam Newton and the Patriots both benefiting from a year together in 2020?
I suppose one succinct answer to that question would be this: “Easy. Cam Newton stinks.”
But let’s envision the unfriendly scenario where Mr. Reliable, ol’ Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. decides that it’s finally time to hang up his comically oversized helmet for the final time. He may have recently restated his goal of playing until age 45, but this is Tom Brady. Do you really think he’s going to give you a heads-up when it’s time to go?
(It’s also possible that Brady goes off and plays for the Chargers for some reason, but we’re going to be doing enough hypothesizing here, we don’t need to add that wrinkle.)
So let’s say the Patriots ride the secret Brady retirement tour all the way to a Super Bowl victory in Miami. Brady decides to move on from football, and the Patriots are left with the following depth chart at quarterback for 2020.
QB1: Jarrett Stidham
QB3 (emergency): Julian Edelman/Mohamed Sanu
Assuming that the rejuvenated Bill Belichick decides to coach until he’s 100 years old, you have to imagine he doesn’t really plan on entering any season with that stable of QBs. While he may believe Stidham will be ready to be an NFL starter in year two … he just as easily might not.
At that point, Belichick’s options may be somewhat sparse in terms of adding an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. Drafting late in the first round certainly won’t help, so the draft may not prove useful. In terms of upcoming free agents, the list is … not great. Dak Prescott is surely going to re-sign in Dallas. Phillip Rives may be available, as will Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston … and Ryan Tannehill. (That was a rough sentence to read.) Teddy Bridgewater could be an option, but he’ll also be a hot commodity on the open market, if the Saints let him go.
In that framework, one can see a way where the acquisition of Newton could appeal to Belichick. He could wait for the Panthers to cut Newton, thus freeing the Patriots to sign the veteran QB to a short-term, prove-you-still-have-it type of deal. Or Belichick could offer the Panthers a late-round pick to pick up the final year of Newton’s contract, which carries a $21 million cap hit.
The former scenario may be much more appealing than the latter, and thus, this concept may only work in a world where the Panthers cut Newton. If Kyle Allen finishes the 2019 season as a total trainwreck, then this all may end up being a whole lot of nothing.
But if Allen continues winning for the Panthers, and if the still-new owner is ready to cut ties with the face of the franchise, and if Brady retires, then Newton lining up at quarterback for the Patriots has to be considered a real possibility.
Football-wise, Newton figures to be a question mark. Since tearing through the NFL with 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in his 15-1 2015 season, Newton has compiled an 82.6 passer rating in 47 games, throwing 65 touchdowns and 44 interceptions while completing under 60 percent of his passes. And after averaging 641 rushing yards and almost nine rushing touchdowns per season from 2011-15, Newton averaged 534 yards and five touchdowns on the ground per season in the three years since.
Add in a shoulder surgery that left his throwing arm never quite right for 2018 and now a Lisfranc injury that could impede his mobility, it’s possible that the physically devastating life of a mobile quarterback has taken its toll on the 30-year-old QB. That would be a real concern.
Nevertheless, if Newton were available for low money, his experience as a starter for almost a decade will make him a better choice at QB than most available options. And there’s nothing Belichick loves more than capitalizing on seizing a player when most other teams turn away.