How the Cam Newton era in Carolina likely ended with a whimper

The Carolina Panthers announced on Tuesday that they have placed former NFL MVP Cam Newton on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury.

What we know: Newton underwent off-season shoulder surgery and was able to make it back for a preseason appearance. Unfortunately, he suffered a foot injury in his return to action. After playing in just two regular-season games, Newton suffered a setback. He’s now out for the season.

We all saw this coming: It really isn’t brain surgery. Under former general manager David Gettleman, the Panthers did nothing to protect Newton from injury.

  • Carolina’s general manager for five drafts, from 2013-17, Gettleman failed to provide Newton with an offensive line to help keep him upright.
  • That five-draft span saw the Panthers select offensive linemen in the first two rounds just once (Taylor Moton in 2017). It’s not a coincidence that Newton found himself sacked a whopping 185 times in 76 starts during this span. That’s despite his ability to avoid pressure.
  • This led to regression on Newton’s part, both from an in-game playing ability and injuries.
  • A quarterback that missed exactly zero starts in his first three seasons saw minor injuries and the rigors of the game catch up to him.

The Ron Rivera component: This is no way a knock on Rivera. He’s been the most successful coach in Panthers history. It’s just the reality of the situation.

  • Before Rivera took over in 2011, the Panthers relied on another defensive-minded head coach in John Fox to lead the charge.
  • Most figured the Panthers would turn to an offensive-minded head coach with the knowledge that Newton would go No. 1 overall in 2011. That didn’t happen.
  • Most good young quarterbacks have a relationship with their head coaches. Jared Goff and Sean McVay in Los Angeles. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in Kansas City. Bill O’Brien and Deshaun Watson in Houston. Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. The list goes on.
  • Carolina failed to provide Newton with this out of the gate. It might not have stunted his growth, but it has failed to lead to progression.

Cam’s own shortcomings: We can’t place all of the blame on the Panthers’ organization for this dramatic fall from grace.

  • Back in 2015, Newton put up one of the best performances from a quarterback in modern history en route to leading Carolina to a 15-1 record and a second-ever Super Bowl appearance.
  • His fall from grace can be linked to that very same Super Bowl, a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos. Newton completed just 18-of-41 passes with three turnovers. He acted the part of a petulant child in the post-game presser, leading to further questions about maturity.
  • On the field, Newton failed to change the way he played after that loss in Santa Clara. He was still taking hits on plays that he should have given himself up.
  • The end result was a dramatic regression from a player in Newton who lost each of his past eight starts before being injured once again back in Week 2.

Past three seasons: The regression has been real compared to his early-career success.

  • Newton is averaging just 22 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions while completing less than 60% of his passes over the past three seasons.
  • The three seasons before that saw the former NFL MVP average 26 touchdowns and 12 picks. There’s a correlation here. He found himself banged up too much. Newton’s struggles changing his style of play was a huge factor here.
  • It shows in his record as a starter. From 2013-15, Newton posted a 32-13 record. He’s 23-23 since then.

There’s a dramatic backdrop to all of this. Carolina heads into Week 10 with a 5-3 record. Second-year undrafted free agent Kyle Allen is 5-1 as a starter this season. Newton has lost each of his past eight starts. That’s not a coincidence.

With Newton out for the remainder of the season, Allen has an opportunity to prove his worth as the future franchise quarterback in Carolina. It was already trending in that direction before Tuesday’s news.

With a $21.1 million cap hit for next season, the final year of his current contract, Newton could very well be done with the Panthers.

Carolina can’t justify paying Newton that type of money when Allen is set to become an exclusive-rights free agent and will count pennies on the dollar over the next couple seasons.

In turn, other quarterback-needy teams will come calling. In a vacuum, that $21-plus million cap hit is not restrictive for other teams. In fact, it will rank 15th among quarterbacks in 2020. Newton will have interest.

We are also obligated to note that this might be the best thing for both Newton and his Panthers. A change of scenery and a clean divorce could help both move forward as separate entities.

This doesn’t make the potential end of Newton’s career in Carolina any less jarring or sad. That’s for sure.

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