Prior to 2019, Cam Newton had missed five games in his NFL career. Total.
After missing six this season due to a lingering Lisfranc injury to his left foot, Carolina placed the former MVP on injured reserve (IR) Tuesday.
That decision answered some immediate questions about Newton’s future with the team. It also raised some others.
Here’s what we do know:
With the move to IR, Newton cannot play again for eight games. This leaves him eligible only to return for a potential playoff game, which seems unlikely even if the Panthers make the postseason.
Newton almost certainly will not return this regular season, and it is abundantly clear his foot is still nowhere near healthy, as GM Marty Hurney said in his statement about the IR move: “At this time, we have decided that the best decision to reach the goal of bringing the foot back to 100 percent is to place Cam on injured reserve.”
Kyle Allen is the Panthers’ starting quarterback for the rest of the season. The team will get a full body of work from him to determine if he could be the long-term answer at the position.
While we now know what 2019 looks like, everything after that remains a big question mark.
Will one of the league’s biggest stars be in a Panthers’ uniform next season? Should he be?
Let’s break down the Panthers’ options:
Cam Newton remains with the team for the 2020 season
Pro: This option sounds great assuming that Newton returns to full health. He is one of the best players in franchise history. Parting ways with a cornerstone player is never easy, and Newton just happens to be one of the league’s stars.
Figuring that the foot injury will heal and that his throwing shoulder continues to regain strength, the 30-year-old is worth the risk because of what he’s shown throughout his career. Even if he is not quite the player he once was, he is Cam Newton, a player who has led this franchise since 2011. While he was healthy during the 2018 season, he helped lead Carolina to a 6-2 start while throwing 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions, in addition to running for four scores.
Con: Newton has not shown he can stay healthy. He struggled with a shoulder injury in 2018 that ultimately led him to miss the final two games of that season. Last offseason he underwent shoulder surgery for the second time in three years. And then he hurt his foot.
On top of his health issues, Newton’s cap hit next year is massive. If he is on the roster, Newton will count for $21.1 million against the salary cap, per Spotrac. That is a big risk to take on a player who has dealt with injuries in back-to-back years.
The Panthers also would not have that money available to distribute to other players who will need new contracts in the future, such as Christian McCaffrey and Shaq Thompson.
Panthers release Cam Newton
Pro: That $21.1 million cap hit? Not guaranteed. If the Panthers cut ties with Newton, they only have to deal with $2 million in dead cap money and will likely get a third-round compensation pick in return. That is significantly more digestible than having a depleted Newton on the roster. It also lessens the potential risk associated with the questionable heath of the team’s starting quarterback.
Releasing him will allow the team more flexibility to sign current players who will be eligible to become free agents in 2020.
Con: Again, this is the one of the Panthers’ best players — perhaps the best — in franchise history. It is no easy task to let someone who has done so much for a team go. It also opens up more questions. Has Allen shown that he can lead this team? Or, would it make sense to use the cap space saved to go after a big-name, free agent QB?
Panthers trade Cam Newton
Pro: This could get interesting. If the Panthers were to trade Newton, they could potentially get a very large return, especially if Newton trends toward full health in the offseason.
The former first overall pick, who was league MVP in 2015, holds countless Panthers’ records. Carolina could get its next franchise quarterback out of a trade and get to play a role in deciding what team Newton ends up with (likely not in the NFC South).
Con: The biggest problem with trading Newton would be finding a team willing to take on Newton’s contract, particularly given his recent injuries. Because of the cap hit he would create for any team, it would likely lower what the Panthers would receive in return.
Carolina has plenty of options — none of them certain — on how to handle the Newton situation. No matter how the team performs over the next eight games, the Panthers stand to enter one of the most important offseasons in team history in much the same way they began the 2019 season:
Unsure of what to expect from their franchise player.