Following a 42-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers closed the 2019 season to a disappointing 5-11 record, finishing last in the NFC South; certainly not the season that was envisioned for a team who went to training camp with a roster expected to contend in the NFC.
A questionable change from a 4-3 defensive scheme to the 3-4 and injuries ran rampant on the Panthers this season but nothing derailed this season for the men in black and blue more than the season-ending foot injury to quarterback Cam Newton after 2 games.
Despite the injury to Newton, the Panthers started the season 5-3 with backup quarterback Kyle Allen leading the way. For a time, Allen was seen as the heir apparent; fans and commentators were ready to toss the 2015 NFL MVP aside and proclaim Allen the new QB of the future for the Panthers… then the wheels fell off! The league figured out Allen and struggles commenced, injuries began to mount up, the defense fell apart (which under the 3-4 scheme, wasn’t all that together in the first place), and all of a sudden the Panthers end the season on what felt like the longest 7-game losing streak ever.
The Panthers relieved head coach Ron Rivera of his duties on December 3rd with four games remaining in the season; Rivera has since landed on his feet as the new head coach of the Washington ***skins on a five-year deal, taking most of the Panthers staff with him. On January 7th, the Panthers announced Baylor University Head Coach Matt Rhule has the team’s fifth head coach in franchise history on a lucrative seven-year deal. Panthers owner David Tepper also plans to add an assistant general manager/executive vice president to the football operations team; general manager Marty Hurney and Rhule will work together to fill the new position. Rhule, Hurney and the assistant general manager will have to determine how the Panthers move into the 2020 season at the quarterback solution.
Yes, the Panthers can save a big chunk of change ($19.1 million in cap space) by cutting Newton; it is questionable what they would get back in a trade at this moment but you have to believe there would be a number of suitors for Newton’s services. As Panther players cleaned out their lockers on December 30th, the theme from players interviewed was that moving on from Newton at this time would be the “dumbest thing” the organization has ever done; I would have to agree. Even former interim head coach Perry Fewell chimed in by saying, “I don’t know why he’d be leaving.” Tepper has gone on record saying that a decision on Newton will be made based on his health; I respect that.
If Newton has the ability to play next year, the choice is simple, Cam Newton is the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. The health of a starter in the NFL is never guaranteed; the Panthers must go into next season with better options at the quarterback position behind QB1 than Allen and Will Grier. Kudos to Allen for the job that he was able to do but it is time that the Panthers look elsewhere, to a veteran quarterback to hold the number two position behind Newton; Grier is under contract and can be retained to continue his development.
In his first 8 years in the NFL, Newton has lived the life of a student taking an online class; he’s performed most of his time in the league as if he has had to teach himself and figure it out during games. Newton has never had the benefit of good or even above average offensive coaching at the professional level, suffering many years under the tutelage of former offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Newton’s footwork, throwing mechanics, decision-making, turnovers, etc. were always points of criticism for the quarterback and lead to lots of falsehoods about his work ethic. Let’s not forget that Newton took a Panthers’ team with Ted Ginn and Philly Brown as his lead receivers and a poor offensive line to the Super Bowl on a 15-1 record, so there is obviously some work that goes into an MVP performance like that. In addition to the lack of coaching and development, Newton has never had quality protection. Former general manager Dave Gettleman’s answer was to always plug in used-to-be’s or never was type of players (see Michael Oher, Matt Kalil, Mike Remmers – *throws up in mouth*) to protect Newton but Newton has taken more punishment than another other quarterback in the league since 2011.
Before his shoulder injury last season, Newton was performing at his highest level yet. He finished the year with a career high in completion percentage (67.9%), his highest since his rookie season (60%). He threw his most touchdowns since the Super Bowl season in 2015 (24; the second highest of his career), third less number of interceptions (13), second best passer rating (94.2), and took the least number of sacks of his career (29). All this due to making a switch from Shula to veteran coach Norv Turner who, along with his son, quarterback coach Scott Turner (hired as the Washington ***skins offensive coordinator on January 8th), finally taught Cam to improve throwing and footing mechanics, making smarter use of his feet, slide instead of taking hits, check down or throw the ball away instead of taking sacks, etc; simple things that quarterbacks such as Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have gotten since day one.
Two billboards have appeared in Charlotte on Monday as part of a GoFundMe campaign that say “Keep Cam in Carolina. The fund, with a goal of $8,000, was launched by a fan named Jesse Hardy III amidst speculation the Panthers may… https://t.co/hmG0WnRnWp pic.twitter.com/yeIOMbEjkm— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) December 23, 2019
In his introductory press conference on January 8th, Rhule said he spoke to Newton who didn’t want to talk about the past but wanted to concentrate on the future. “I certainly look forward to working with him. I hope so. But I don’t know enough about, really, everything that’s kinda happening right now, said Rhule of Newton. “If I have a chance to coach him, I know exactly that I’m getting one of the best guys, best winners that the NFL’s seen.”
I suggest that the Rhule retain Norv Turner as offensive coordinator or hire another experienced offensive coach who has a proven track record in development at the quarterback position. The front office should also commit to finally providing Newton protection from his offensive line for the first time in his career. The offensive weapons are plenty in Carolina with All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, and tight end heir apparent to Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas. Everybody knows the real reason why Newton prays before he takes his first snap every game; I’d ask a higher power to protect me too if I had his offensive line every week! With health, good coaching and protection, there’s no reason that at age 30 that we couldn’t see Cam Newton taking snaps as the starting quarterback of the Carolina Panthers well into his 40s such as Brees and Brady have done for their respective teams.
Follow me on Twitter @ShaolinShoGunMA