According to Pro Football Network Insider Ben Allbright, one team to keep a close eye on in the looming Cam Newton sweepstakes are the Los Angeles Chargers, should Rivers retire or move on. This ties in with a report from Tony Pauline several weeks ago where he said the Chargers would be looking to draft a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Of course, it’s likely one or the other, but the word is that the Chargers would prefer someone with experience like Newton or Marcus Mariota, rather than drafting and developing a rookie quarterback. In fact, Pauline noted in his recent mock draft that the Chargers would likely prefer a highly rated offensive tackle or cornerback if one fell to them rather than a quarterback. Acquiring Newton could free up some options for them to do just that.
With Ron Rivera out of Carolina and the Panthers evaluating all of their options this offseason, Newton may be the next stalwart of the Panthers to find himself heading out of the door. If that is the case, the destination becomes the next interesting area of discussion, and that is where the Chargers come in. The Chargers could be facing a future without Philip Rivers, whether that be in the event of his retirement, or the team choosing to move on with his contract expiring at the end of this season. That would leave the Chargers looking at the potential of having a new starting QB for the first time since 2006. Could that void be filled by Newton?
If so, does this mean an offensive shift for the Chargers?
Turning to Newton would require a shift in thinking from the current Chargers offense. Since 2008, Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards in every season except one (2012). Newton, in contrast, has thrown for over 4,000 yards just once in his career, his rookie season back in 2011. Instead, Newton’s value to a team is felt elsewhere. He has rushed for over 500 yards in six of his nine seasons in the NFL and has scored five or more rushing touchdowns in seven of those seasons. Rivers has just three rushing touchdowns and has eclipsed 100 yards rushing just once in his career.
Those numbers tell you that the Chargers would be going from a drop back, stay in the pocket quarterback to a guy who could hurt a defense with both his arm and his legs. That said, they do have some experience with a quarterback who likes to use his legs on their roster in Tyrod Taylor.
It is not unrealistic to think that the Chargers have been planning for the possibility of having a QB capable of using his legs to make plays running their offense in the near future. Why? According to Allbright, the Chargers considered drafting quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2018 had Derwin James not fallen to them.
Let that sink in for a few minutes.
Would Newton provide an upgrade over Rivers?
In terms of on-field performance, we have already talked about the differential between the style of the two, but what about the results? Rivers has taken a lot of the blame for his teams 5-8 record this season, but has he played that badly?
According to PFN’s OSM Metric, Rivers has an overall grade of 27.35 this season, which is considered on the high end of “good.” In six games this season, his OSM has climbed above 30 and into the “very good” region of the metric. Just twice this season has he recorded a grade which has been considered lower than “good” – Week 5 at home to Denver and Week 11 in Mexico City against the Chiefs. Both of those grades were considered “average” and saw Rivers rank outside the top 20 at the position. In the remainder of the season, he has been ranked outside of the top 10 just once by OSM.
It is hard to judge Newton this season. He played just two games and he was clearly injured in both. It is tough to know what the Chargers will get from Newton, who is having surgery this week on the Lisfranc injury to his foot, because we do not know what style of play he will be able to manage when he returns.
However, we can get some sort of idea. Throughout his career, Newton has only completed over 60% of his passes just twice. However, we saw his passing numbers improve in the 2018 season as he completed 67% of his passes, had the second-highest yards per game, and third-highest yards per attempt of his career.
How much would a trade for Newton cost?
One thing worth considering is cost. With a cap hit of just under $20 million, Newton will likely be the cheaper option next year, and the Chargers can cut bait after a year if it does not work out. However, another factor is the cost of acquiring him in a trade.
A report from NFL Insider Ian Rapaport earlier this week stated that the Panthers would be willing to deal Newton for a significant return. What that means is unclear, but it’s hard to see a team not giving up at least a first or second round pick in return for arguably the most important position on the team.
It is likely that the Chargers will not be the only suitor, and then it becomes all about how much they are willing to pay for a quarterback who has no guarantee of being a long-term solution. This will be one of the more fascinating situations to watch as the offseason rolls around, and Pro Football Network will keep you updated with all of the details.