Cam Newton’s best path forward is to embrace being a backup
It was one of the strangest and surliest post-Super Bowl press conferences ever, but there was a reason Cam Newton was so mad.
Back in February of 2016, the Carolina Panthers signal caller was the league MVP, the still-emerging alpha male of all quarterbacks, a superstar ready to explode.
The defeat to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos at Super Bowl 50 was an upset, enough of a shock to send Newton into a funk that resulted in a string of non-answers and one-word sneers to media questions.
The most lucid response he gave was also the most believable. When Newton said, “We’ll be back,” there was little reason to doubt him. Despite the offensive collapse in the biggest game of all, the Panthers seemed to have all the tools to continue as one of the league’s dominant teams, primarily because of their man under center and his athletic gifts.
With the Cam Newton era in Carolina officially ending today, look back at some of No. 1's best celebrations with the Panthers 🕺
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) March 24, 2020
Fast forward four years, and Newton looks like he’s facing life as an NFL backup.
After being ushered out by the Panthers, the reality is that few teams have a need or want for an often-injured QB who continues to be seen as nursing an attitude problem.
What Newton does have, right now, is a chip on his shoulder and an urgency to prove the doubters wrong. And, certainly, to get back at Carolina. In an Instagram post on Thursday, he laid his emotions bare. “They gave up on me,” he said.
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A post shared by Cam Newton (@cameron1newton) on
They did indeed. When the Panthers tried to trade him but found no takers, they cut him loose, after nine years of service. Teddy Bridgewater has been given the keys to the Carolina franchise; Newton has been put on the fast-track to nowhere. Looking at his numbers and age — he’s still just 30 — it doesn’t really add up.
“Teams throw away mid-round draft picks on QB chances all the time,” FS1’s Nick Wright said on First Things First. “Why there wasn’t a team in the league willing to spend one of those picks to ensure they get Cam Newton, I will never understand it. It is so illogical. It can’t be the whole league has decided at 30 years old, Cam Newton isn’t worth a mid-round flyer to see if he can go regain some of his MVP form.
“The league still holds against Cam his bad body language, the presser after the Super Bowl, and the postgame stuff, because the rest of it makes no sense.”
"Why there wasn't a team willing to spend a mid-round pick to ensure they get Cam, … I'll never understand it. It can't be the whole league decided, at 30 years old, Cam isn't worth a mid-round pick, a flier on, to see if he can regain some of his MVP form." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/E6ztFRbCTZ
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) March 25, 2020
Newton, when healthy, has proven himself at the very least a top 10 QB, throwing for more than 3,300 yards and averaging 25 touchdown passes in the four seasons before his lost 2019 campaign.
But his release comes at a bad time. Virtually every team has done their business to take care of the most vital position. Long and lucrative contracts have been handed down. Newton is an outside shot to unseat any incumbent, as he’s seen as too high risk.
Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson spoke to an unnamed NFL talent evaluator who could only think of one location where Newton might start, the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, even that would be no certainty, given the franchise’s preference for youth, rebuilding, and the availability of Gardner Minshew.
“For this evaluator, who played a role in a quarterback signing this offseason, this is the shape of Cam Newton’s starting market,” Robinson wrote. “One team. And not just any team. This one isn’t even a convenient fit.”
.@ShannonSharpe on Cam Newton to the Pats:
"Belichick has a tendency to take guys that people don't believe will fit in his system, guys that've been given up on. You saw what he did with Randy Moss & Corey Dillon. I could see it, but my odds are in favor of Cam in LA." pic.twitter.com/y8PhqFDsLG
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) March 26, 2020
The most intriguing of all possibilities would be the New England Patriots, where perhaps only Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft know how the future of the position at Foxborough is going to pan out. However, the Patriots signed Brian Hoyer and kept Jarrett Stidham, and it would be odd to think that they’d do that then demote either to third string.
Backup possibilities abound. You could imagine Newton in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Green Bay or Kansas City, an explosive potential option for set situations on top of being available if a marquee QB went down. The extra rest might finally give him the chance to get fully healthy, and the No. 2 role could allow him to perform a rebuilding job on his image.
The Instagram post was great, but there has never been much doubt that he is a fine athlete, or that he wants to win. What comes next is a pride swallowing slide. It is not necessarily the end; in the short term, however, he’s on the outside looking in.
The reality will eventually sink in. No one is going to reward him for how good he was four years ago. He needs to show what he can offer now.