The Carolina Panthers are in an odd spot right now at the quarterback position. Last season saw Sam Darnold open the season as the starter, only to get hurt and leave the job to P.J. Walker. That then led to a Cam Newton return.
The reunion did not go as planned, as the Panthers went 0-5 when Newton started. He got progressively worse as time went on and a promising 3-0 start to the year ended in disaster with a 5-12 record.
The quarterback market has been wild this offseason, yet Carolina has not joined in on the fun, other than a rumored run at Deshaun Watson. They are stuck in a tough spot because Darnold is owed a guaranteed $18.8 million under his fifth-year option. No team will trade for him, which means they may have to either eat his money or hope he can turn things around.
One option is to bring back Newton for one more year. But for the sake of both sides, moving on for good seems like the best option.
Panthers and Cam Newton need to split for good
Newton was once a franchise legend in Carolina. Then head coach Matt Rhule got the job in 2020 and decided he wanted a fresh start at quarterback. That right there showed how the coach viewed the quarterback.
But circumstances changed in 2021, and the former MVP was welcomed back. His 0-5 record as a starter and the fact that he kept getting benched for Walker proved it was not a good fit anymore.
Newton is still relatively young at 32 years old, so it’s entirely possible he can join another team and find success. Being 32 is almost young, given the way things are going for NFL quarterbacks.
Yet going back to Carolina means he is on a team likely amid a mini-rebuild. The division is no longer wide open now that Tom Brady is back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Panthers’ best weapon, Christian McCaffrey, keeps showing up in trade rumors and has dealt with health issues for several years.
This conversation would be entirely different if the former MVP showed up and helped the Panthers fight for a playoff spot last year. Instead, they got worse with him and lost seven straight games to end the year.
Rhule himself is in a tough spot, likely of his own doing. He could be on the hot seat, and going back and forth between starting and benching Newton would not win him any favors from fans.
The best strategy for the Panthers may be to accept that they have to pay Darnold and draft a top quarterback prospect. That way, they can find new hope in a young signal-caller and let him play in 2022 if Darnold looks awful to open the season.
Bringing Newton back on a short-term deal without guaranteeing he will start would only create a distraction if the goal is to draft and develop the next potential franchise star.