Don’t look now, but the Carolina Panthers’ first road game of the preseason schedule is scheduled to be at the New England Patriots.
Pandemic permitting, it will be the first chance for quarterback Cam Newton to reintroduce himself to his old team.
Newton, a former MVP for the Panthers and the franchise’s leader in just about every quarterbacking category, was released in the offseason after injury wiped out his 2019 season.
Since being drafted first overall in 2011, Newton had become the face of the Panthers franchise, working in the community with a number of causes while leading the team to success on the field. The relationship between Newton and the Panthers seemed to sour in the past year, however.
First, since-fired head coach Ron Rivera appeared to question whether Newton was injured after he struggled through the first two games of the season. When it was later revealed that he was suffering from a Lisfranc injury, ironically suffered against the Patriots in the preseason, the team embraced since-traded backup Kyle Allen, who replaced Newton as the starter.
In the offseason, the team released a statement that it was “granting permission” to Newton to seek a trade, implying that the quarterback was looking to leave Charlotte. Newton went to social media to deny the claim.
“Don’t believe the hype,” he said in a video. “I never once wanted to leave Carolina. Don’t let them make you believe anything else. It was their decision. I stuck with it, and I knew that, so I asked for a trade.
“Right now, I feel angry, I feel let down,” he added. “But at the same time, I’m not bitter. You know what I mean? I know since the first day that I came into this league that this day was going to come.” He concluded the March video saying he didn’t know what the future would hold, but, “I know that there will be a next step.”
By the time the team released him, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum, Chase Daniel, Philip Rivers, Colt McCoy and Tom Brady had all signed with new teams and Nick Foles had been traded, filling most of the available starting and backup jobs in the NFL.
That left Newton seemingly without a viable landing spot, and certainly not at the salary level — in the $20 million range — that he was seeking. Plus, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel and closing team offices around the league, Newton didn’t have a chance to pass physicals for teams or prove he was healthy enough to return to play.
Then, over the weekend, Newton found a home. The Patriots, who saw legendary quarterback Tom Brady leave for Tampa Bay, signed Newton to a contract that amounts to a bargain for the team and an opportunity for Newton to show he’s still one of the sport’s best.
Newton will need to win the job. Jarrett Stidham, who has thrown just four NFL passes, was expected to be the starter after the Pats went through free agency and the draft without bringing in a challenger. Journeyman Brian Hoyer is also on the roster.
Assuming that Newton is healthy and gets the chance to fill Brady’s shoes, he’ll join one of the league’s most successful teams over the last two decades — and one willing to take a chance on players that have worn out their welcome elsewhere. Also, with one of the league’s top coaches in Bill Belichick, as well as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Newton will have creativity in offensive scheming that has often seemed to be lacking.
Of course, to find such a great opportunity, Newton had to pay a steep price. His contract is filled with incentives and could pay as much as $7.5 million for this year. By comparison, the 42-year-old Brady signed a two-year, $50 million deal with Tampa. The contract earned harsh criticism from defensive back Richard Sherman of San Francisco, who posted on Twitter, “How many former league MVPs have had to sign for the [minimum]? Asking for a friend. Just ridiculous. A transcendent talent, and less talented QBs are getting [$15-16 million] a year. Disgusting.”
Assuming a healthy Newton produces, he should get the opportunity to sign a more representative contract next year, whether it be with New England or elsewhere. It appears to be a good gamble for both sides, and it gives Newton the chance to prove that, despite what the Carolina front office might think, he’s not done yet.
“Oh, what a feeling,” Newton said in an update to his March video. “I got so much on my mind right now, but I’m gonna keep this [expletive] brief: I’m at your neck.”