Panthers parting ways with Cam Newton

The longtime franchise quarterback is expected to be traded or released

The Panthers will be moving on without former first overall pick Cam Newton after nearly a decade of the quarterback being the face of franchise. (Mike McCarn / AP Photo)

It appears that the Cam Newton era with the Carolina Panthers is over.

The team announced Tuesday that it was giving Newton, a former NFL MVP, Rookie of the Year and the franchise’s all-time leader in just about every passing category, permission to have his agents seek a trade.

The announcement ended a period of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback that dated back to early last season. Newton struggled as the Panthers lost the first two games of the season, while head coach Ron Rivera denied that there was anything physically wrong with the quarterback.

Prior to Week Three, the team announced that Newton had a Lisfranc injury in his foot. The injury kept him out for the rest of the year and eventually required surgery.

With the team clearly edging toward a rebuild under new coach Matt Rhule, the fact that the Panthers could save about $19 million by cutting ties with Newton in the offseason led to speculation that he could be traded or released.

Rhule gave his support to Newton in a press conference during February’s NFL Combine, saying, “I absolutely want Cam here. There’s no doubt about that. … From my perspective, I am unbelievably excited to get a chance to work with Cam.”

Despite the public face, little seemed to be going on behind the scenes to give Newton confidence that he’d be back. He posted a workout video in February in which he said, “I’m so comfortable being uncomfortable. … All I want is a little commitment. And you can’t give me that?” He added the hashtag #ShineThruTheShade.

As Newton sat in limbo, the team continued to dismantle the key players from recent seasons. Linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his retirement. The team announced that it was parting ways with tight end Greg Olsen, Newton’s top target over the pair’s tenure in Carolina. Olsen later signed with Seattle. Finally, shortly after the NFL Combine, the Panthers traded Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner.

On Tuesday, the final shoe dropped when the Panthers posted on Twitter, saying, “We have given Cam Newton permission to seek a trade.”

Newton responded angrily, accusing the team of lying.

“Stop with the word play,” he replied to the team’s post. “I never asked for it. There is no dodging this one. I love the Panthers to death and will always love you guys. Please do not try and play me or manipulate this narrative and act like I wanted this. You forced me into this.”

Who do the Panthers turn to?

Kyle Allen filled in for Newton and, after an early winning streak, seemed to show that he wasn’t a long-term answer. Rookie Will Grier struggled in his late-season look. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the team was negotiating a three-year contract with Teddy Bridgewater, a former Vikings starter who excelled when he filled in for an injured Drew Brees last season in New Orleans. 

Where will Cam land?

Newton has his choice of several teams in need of a quarterback.

Chicago: The Bears appear ready to part ways with former UNC Tar Heel and second overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky. Chicago has been one of the favorites to end up with Newton since late in the 2019 season when it became apparent that Trubisky was not in the team’s long-term plans. The Bears play at Bank of America Stadium this coming season, which would give Newton the chance to have a homecoming.

Los Angeles Chargers: It appears that Philip Rivers is leaving after 16 seasons. How much of a Chargers fixture is he? The team moved (from San Diego) before he did. Newton’s biggest perceived drawbacks — his age and cost — wouldn’t be a factor if he replaces the older and costlier Rivers. Like the Bears, the Chargers are on the Panthers schedule this season, in a game in Los Angeles.

Indianapolis: Another team that has relied on a former Triangle passer is the Colts. Franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retired suddenly before last season. Former NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett stepped in and started 15 games last season, but Newton would be an upgrade, according to most observers. Indy has likely targeted veteran Philip Rivers as its top choice, but Newton could be a fallback.

New England: The latest entry in the quarterback sweepstakes. Tom Brady announced he wouldn’t be returning to the Patriots a couple hours before the Panthers made their announcement about Newton. Coach Bill Belichick is known for bringing in big names who have worn out their welcome elsewhere, and Newton would fit that blueprint.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs’ love-hate relationship with Jameis Winston may be coming to an end. The team has targeted Brady as its top choice, but Newton would relish the opportunity to play his old team twice a year on a divisional rival.