As he enters his 10th NFL season, Cam Newton is looking for a new home.
In line to be paid $21.1 million in 2020 and to count for $19.1 million against the salary cap, the Carolina Panthers gave Newton permission to seek a trade on March 17. No deal came to fruition, and a week later the 2011 No. 1 pick was released.
The biggest question with Newton going forward is his health, meaning his free agency isn’t without complication during these unprecedented times. While Newton did pass a physical in Atlanta on Monday with a doctor who his agents and the Panthers agreed on, he can’t take a physical with any team doctors due to COVID-19 physical distancing measures.
Hampered by injury over the last two seasons, Newton has missed 16 of the last 32 Panthers games. He missed 14 games in 2019 due to a foot injury and before that missed games with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
At his best, Newton can be one of the most dominant players at the game’s most important position. Newton’s penchant for scoring is undeniable as he’s accumulated 182 passing touchdowns and 58 rushing touchdowns (an NFL QB record) over his nine-year career.
Four years after capturing rookie of the year in 2011, Newton led Carolina to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance as the NFL MVP in 2015 in his best pro season. But his elite play didn’t stop there. Newton kicked off the 2018 season on fire; Carolina was 6-2 through eight games and rolling until Newton was hit in the shoulder by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt. Both the franchise and the player haven’t been the same since.
With years played and games missed piling up, there is no telling if Newton will ever get back to his MVP form. His nine years in Carolina were by and large spectacular, but things ended on a sour note. Newton had a 23-23 record in his last four seasons and lost his final eight starts as a Panther, and he’s now the first No. 1 overall pick released by the team that drafted him since JaMarcus Russell was released by the Oakland Raiders in 2009.
From 2011-2018, Newton missed just four games. In 2019 he missed 14. Is he a durable player who had a bad injury he has since recovered from? Or is he damaged goods after being hit more than any quarterback in the NFL during his career? That is what prospective teams have to determine.
Being released this late in free agency hurts Newton – especially when four quarterbacks are expected to be taken in the first round of the upcoming draft. Newton and his next team will have to be careful as a less-than-perfect fit won’t benefit either side.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of his rumoured potential destinations.
Los Angeles Chargers
With Tyrod Taylor established as a bridge under centre, the Chargers appear set up to draft a quarterback. Los Angeles could trade up and grab Tua Tagovailoa or stay at No. 6 and take Justin Herbert. This is the smarter option: start your franchise with a quarterback who is almost a decade younger and likely a cheaper option than Newton.
Signing Newton would not mean they would have to forgo addressing quarterback in the draft. They could sign Newton to a one-year deal, then draft-and-stash a young QB. Newton could keep the Chargers competitive in the short term while rebuilding his reputation around the league and the Chargers could secure their future at the position.
Sure, Taylor is already in L.A. but he has 46 career starts, and Taylor’s ceiling is Newton’s floor.
Newton would have weapons at his disposal on the outside he’s never had the luxury of having in Carolina. The Chargers also have a good defence and an offensive line that struggled throughout Philip Rivers’ prime but that has been addressed in the off-season. Any quarterback would dream of playing with tight end in Hunter Henry, two new offensive line pieces in Trea Turner and Bryan Bulaga, a versatile running back in Austin Ekeler and two stud receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
The Chargers are in win-now mode, and the quarterback on the market who gives them the best chance to compete now is Newton.
He also gives the Chargers a chance to be relevant as the team moves into a new stadium in L.A. Newton brings star power and a legion of fans to help create buzz.
What if Dwayne Haskins beats Newton out in camp? Is Newton going to sit behind Haskins? Newton rightfully is focusing his energy on salvaging his career, not mentoring the start of someone else’s.
Haskins was Washington owner Dan Snyder’s pick. The last straw for previous head coach Jay Gruden was his reluctance to play Hawkins. Is Ron Rivera’s first move as a head coach going to be importing his old QB and discarding the owner’s guy when Haskins has no trade value.
On top of that, Washington already did bring in a quarterback Rivera was familiar with. They just up gave up a fifth-round draft pick for Kyle Allen. They could have traded for Newton before he was released. We’re not sure it makes sense to further migrate the Panthers quarterback room to Washington with the addition of Newton.
You just drafted Haskins and traded for Allen. If you don’t believe in them, it makes more sense to draft Tua than it does sign Newton. Washington is not close to being competitive, never mind winning a Super Bowl. Every decision should be with the long game in mind. Washington has tried to duct tape big issues in the past (see: the Donovan McNabb era). Draft and development are the only ways to sustained success.
Rivera’s 2011-19 timeline in Carolina matches Newton’s exactly. In a shortened off-season coaches want players they know and trust. Washington’s offensive coordinator, Scott Turner, wouldn’t have to work long with Newton to install his system – in fact, Newton could be a resource in helping to teach it. Haskins is a young quarterback and was already struggling with NFL concepts. Now he’s in a new offence with his second head coach and second coordinator in his second NFL season.
If the goal is to put the best product on the field, it’s hard to argue Haskins or Allen or Alex Smith, if and when he miraculously returns to football. Newton would give Washington a better chance to win than Newton.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have a very specific offence. They have run the same offence for 20 years. Accuracy in the short passing game and getting the ball out quickly have been hallmarks in their system. Newton doesn’t seem to fit that prototype.
He also doesn’t seem to fit under the cap. The Patriots are close to the salary cap and have $26 million in dead cap space. The amount Newton would cost makes it hard to see New England pulling the trigger. Spending on a free-agent quarterback doesn’t seem like a Patriots type of move. Nor does he fit culturally. The over-the-top game day fashion and Instagram posts. The elaborate TD celebrations. That doesn’t seem like “the Patriot way.”
What is stopping the Patriots from developing a new offence? Belichick has adapted his defences over the years to cater to his personnel. It might be refreshing to experiment with what they run offensively.
The Patriots had to have a quick-pass offence with Brady. They had no zone-run schemes or designed quarterback runs because Brady was the slowest in the league at the position.
Belichick is a football historian. Imagine if he implemented some old Wing-T offence principals and embraced more new spread, zone-read concepts. The Patriots gave Tim Tebow a look when not many else would.
Style of play shouldn’t stop them from going after Newton. If you think they are going to find a quarterback in the draft, think again: Belichick has never drafted a quarterback in the first round.