The Change in Perception of Cam Newton
2015 in the sports world is awhile ago, but it’s not ancient. That is the year that the number one pick in the 2011 NFL draft became a star. That is the year that Cam Newton became the MVP of the league, and led a 15-1 Carolina Panthers team to the super bowl. Two years later, another solid Panthers team that won 11 games and went to the playoffs. Then, in 2018, while the team fell apart after a 6-2 start, a career high in completion percentage for Newton who got too banged up to play the final two games of the season. The collapse in 2018, despite a more precise Newton, turned out to be the beginning of the end. The 2019 season quickly went up in flames as Newton played in only two games, before shoulder and ankle injuries became too much to continue through. A few months later, new head coach Matt Rhule signed Teddy Bridgewater, and the franchise quarterback became a free agent.
In collegiate athletics, when the athletic director is replaced, the new AD usually looks for an opportunity to bring in “their guy” to the football or basketball program. In a similar fashion, coaches weighing offers from NFL franchises look for who has the best quarterback situation or who can have the means to bring in the quarterback they want. Questions did surround Cam Newton’s status with the organization as Rhule got the job, but Rhule at every turn said “he wanted to Coach Cam Newton.” A couple weeks later, the news dropped, Carolina was “allowing Cam Newton to seek a trade.” Oh, one might think, Cam wanted to get out of there… wrong. Newton quickly took to Instagram to state he had not asked for a trade and that Carolina was being deceiving.
That is the real tragedy in this: the Carolina Panthers treated their franchise quarterback of a decade like he was nothing but trouble for their organization and had put them in limbo for years. As stated above, he won an MVP, he led Carolina to the Super Bowl, he led them to multiple division titles, he was never a nuisance, he was an asset.
It’s not unfair to worry about Cam Newton’s health going forward. He is a quarterback that runs with a bruising mentality and it’s an important part of his game. Without it, the majority of his passing numbers have him as an average quarterback. He’s never had a single digit interception season, and his career completion percentage is just a shade under 60 percent. However, the passing yards have always been high, and his best completion percentage in a season came in his last mostly full season, 2018.
The running aspect is what made him so dynamic and one of the top quarterbacks in the league. It is a legitimate concern to have to rely on that well into his 30’s. He’ll be 31 at the start of next season though, and I think still has a few good running seasons in him. Don’t think he’s a franchise quarterback anymore? Fine, but shifting attention to the other teams in the league, he is still absolutely good enough to start for half the teams in the league. The Bears chose Nick Foles over him. The internet might argue Nick Foles is better because “Nick Foles won a ring.” Great, I suppose those same people would take Trent Dilfer over Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, or Rich Gannon right? In a surprising move, the Redskins traded for Kyle Allen. Maybe the asking price was too high but it was strange for the team that former Panthers coach Ron Rivera now coaches to take Allen instead of a clearly available Newton.
As free agency has continued, the starting jobs have dried up, as the teams without an answer at quarterback still have planned for the NFL draft to be their answer.
We really are about to see a league in which Cam Newton, the 2015 MVP, now at still a very reasonable age of 31, is not a starting quarterback. How the league turned on Cam so quickly is hard to put a finger on. The injuries are a concern but not a death sentence. The attitude is quirky but not a disruption or a cancer. The production was still there until the injuries. I find it hard to believe that at some point a team won’t wake up and realize what they’re missing. They’ll give Cam an opportunity, and he’ll seize it. He’ll lunge for a first down, get up, signal first down, not with a smile, but with a look of determination.