This offseason will be an interesting one for Cam Newton.
It’s been an insane calendar year for the Carolina Panthers. Among the ashes of turmoil and turnover only rise additional questions about the future and present of the franchise. Cam Newton has a thing for being number one, so, fittingly, he lands as the number one question mark for the Panthers in this off-season and beyond.
I wanted to compartmentalize the outcomes and scenarios that the Panthers may be facing regarding their (former?) franchise quarterback on paper for my own sanity.
Major change has already occurred for this organization. Between introducing a new head coach and the departure of two of the best players in franchise history (Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen), Carolina’s brass is on a warpath of reconstruction. No one on the roster seems to be safe.
Where do the Panthers go from here? Any time a team goes through major change, the quarterback’s staying power will come into question. Regardless of their past achievements.
I want to begin this list of scenarios by assuring you that under no circumstance would it make fundamental sense for the Panthers to outright cut Cam Newton from the roster.
A $21M cap hit for a starting, non-rookie quarterback in today’s NFL is an absolute bargain. General manager Marty Hurney would be out of his mind not to receive any compensation from cutting ties with a former MVP.
Okay let’s jump in to what can transpire over the weeks to come.
Scenario 1: Cam Newton is traded during the off-season.
In this scenario, which has been championed by national pundits for months, Cam Newton is most likely traded for a decent loot of draft capital, and possibly a veteran player salary dump.
The Panthers would save $19M on the 2020 cap here.
With that money, it would be advisable to front-load contract extensions for unrestricted free agent James Bradberry and possible holdout candidate Christian McCaffrey. If not, the funds could be allocated to a free agent who somehow wants to be a part of a full rebuild.
This move is an absolute statement and signifies Carolina is all-in on blowing up the team and building future capital, a la the Miami Dolphins.
The organizational mindset should then be to gather all draft capital possible, and set sights on a franchise QB in the 2021 draft. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields would be front-runners on the short list. This scenario involves lots of losing for the time being.
- Clarity with the short and long term intentions to direct the franchise by Panthers brass.
- Ripping the band-aid off.
- Fan turmoil will be potentially insurmountable. Like it or not, a majority of Panthers fans either hopped on the bandwagon when Newton was drafted, or in 2015 when he won MVP, leading Carolina to its second Super Bowl berth. This is the reality of a relatively young expansion team in a smaller market.
- Cam Newton, while showing signs of slowing down due to injury, can still be a top five QB when healthy. If Carolina were to trade Newton, and he ended up getting back to form like many think he can, they’d be kicking themselves for years. Followed by a cloud of doubt until they find a quarterback even worth mentioning in the same breath as the former MVP.
Scenario 2: Cam Newton is not traded.
This will provide the Panthers more flexibility but less clarity on their long term intentions at the most important position in the sport. This move is less of a concrete statement, and more of a benefit of the doubt owed to a guy who has been a league superstar.
- Fan base puts off burning down Bank of America stadium… for now.
- The Panthers become more flexible with how they want to approach the future. It’s not a cut and dry rebuild. The Panthers might not have to “tank” for the next year or two.
- If Cam goes down, he goes down swinging as a Carolina Panther.
- The team will always compete for a playoff spot with a healthy Cam Newton at the helm.
- Clarity is muddled. I’m not sure this is the route owner David Tepper wants to go with his franchise. He’s made it clear that he is willing to sacrifice the short term for the long term.
- If Cam plays well in a lost season and becomes a trade piece, again, the fan base will be in shambles.
There are a couple of branch scenarios in this case.
Scenario 2a: Newton (whether he likes it or not) is seen as a “bridge” quarterback.
So yes, the Panthers decide to rightfully give Newton a chance to earn his third contract in the Queen City, but he will be looking over his shoulder until receiving a long term deal.
Carolina either decides to invest draft capital in a quarterback in 2020 (trade up for Tua*, taking a mid-tier guy in rounds 2-4), or set up Newton for disaster by failing to surround him with protection. Tepper and Hurney can then look at fans and say “See, it’s time to move on.”.
This scenario can also involve the Panthers creating insurance in the quarterback room by signing a veteran like Marcus Mariota, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Andy Dalton. This would be a similar move to what the Titans did this past season with Ryan Tannehill, who ultimately won the starting job over Mariota by mid-season and led Tennessee to the AFC Championship game.
Cam can also become a mid-season trade target for a contending team that runs into QB injury trouble and is essentially seen as expendable as the Panthers move into their next phase of rebuilding. Thus, pushing off the inevitable and leading the fan base through even more heartbreak.
*If the Panthers were to trade up specifically for Tua, it would be with the intention that he doesn’t suit up in 2020. Considering a devastating hip injury during his 2019 season at Alabama, he gets to sit back and learn the offense behind Cam Newton while he returns to full form. Depending on Cam’s performance and durability in 2020, Tua either becomes the starter in Carolina in 2021 (as they allow Newton’s contract to expire, making him an unrestricted free agent) or he becomes an elephant-sized shadow looming behind Newton for the remainder of his time in Carolina.
Scenario 2b: Newton earns everyone’s trust over the off-season and proves that he’s worth a long term extension.
This scenario is clearly what the majority of Panthers fans want to see.
New offensive coordinator Joe Brady has proven to be a wunderkind offensive mind, and rejuvenates Newton’s career.
Cam has weapons unlike ever before, he just faces a lack of protection. If the Panthers were to commit to Newton and invest in his protection, they could see this train turn around quicker than anticipated.
Panthers fans have kept receipts. In this scenario, they are vindicated as Cam Newton haters are swallowed whole.
Look, it’s not easy being objective over this topic. Especially if you’ve been a Panthers fan long enough to watch Brian St. Pierre start a football game.
Either way, I’m hoping that this layout helps people come to terms with each reality they can face in the coming weeks, months, and years as a fan or observer of this team.
All in all, fans should trust that the organization is in good hands under David Tepper.
Remember that it’s always darkest before dawn.
It’s always Jimmy before Cam.
Unless you’re the Cleveland Browns.
Thanks for reading.