What led to Cam Newton’s departure from the Carolina Panthers?

Cam Newton has been one of the biggest names in the NFL since the Carolina Panthers drafted him in 2011. So what went wrong in Carolina?

Cam Newton had no interest in leaving the Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately for him, the Panthers had no interest in keeping him around for the long term. This was evident in their actions and Newton’s subsequent trade request, release, and signing with the New England Patriots.

Cam Newton’s Panthers departure

Injuries are always a bummer, but they’re especially annoying when they happen to a handsomely-paid franchise quarterback. There are many other reasons Newton departed from the Panthers. But had his body held up better, he’d still be a playmaker in Carolina.

Extensive injury history

In a completely subjective observation, the NFL did a horrific job protecting Newton. His hulking frame and superior athleticism undoubtedly contributed to their lack of officiating when he was inappropriately hit. But the league holds some blame for his body breaking down.

Newton’s injuries have piled up. Aside from taking more punishment than the average quarterback in general, he suffered from multiple serious injuries. In 2014, Newton broke a rib during a preseason game that caused him to miss Week 1. Then, in December of that year, he was in a car accident that fractured his lower back.

Still, Newton came back and had an MVP campaign in 2015. Then things took a turn in 2016. First, a concussion in Week 4 popped up. In December, he tore his rotator cuff, which required surgery. He would have another surgery on his throwing shoulder after the 2018 season. A Lisfranc injury in 2019 forced him to miss the final 14 regular-season games. This was the final injury straw in Carolina.

Organizational restructuring and team rebuild

Ron Rivera was in Washington now, Greg Olsen went to Seattle, Trai Turner ended up a Charger, and former team owner Jerry Richardson sold the team to David Tepper amid serious sexual misconduct allegations. In the simplest terms, it was time for a fresh start for the franchise. That meant letting Newton go as well.

Newton was in the final year of his deal, and his departure freed up nearly $20 million in salary cap space for the 2020 season. But it was more than just the money. Tepper hired head coach Matt Rhule, who in turn hired phenom Joe Brady to run the offensive side of the ball.

Before lighting the world on fire as the passing game coordinator for the historic 2019 LSU Tigers, Brady had worked closely with Sean Payton in New Orleans. That, in turn, led to the Teddy Bridgewater deal. Now, the Panthers are on their third former first-round quarterback in three years.

The quarterback market during the 2020 offseason was practically nonexistent. There was no trade market for an injured quarterback the team was looking to move on from anyways, even with the assurance he’d be ready for the season.

So, the team cut ties with Newton, and he was free to test free agency.

If 2020 was any indication, they made the right call

Bridgewater didn’t work out in Carolina, to the surprise of very few people. However, Newton didn’t light the world on fire in New England, either. Now, that’s also not necessarily his fault, and his story in New England doesn’t have an ending yet.

The team still believes in Newton, at least to some level. He’s starting the 2021 season as the Patriots’ QB1. In 2020, New England only scored 12 touchdowns through the air. Newton threw just 8 touchdowns in 15 games, adding 10 interceptions to the mix. That’s certainly less than ideal.

Yet, he posted his second-best mark ever in rushing touchdowns with 12. There’s a multitude of reasons for Newton’s wacky statistical outing.

First, there was practically no offseason for the NFL last season, and coming to a new situation with strict restrictions hurt teams implementing important pieces or schematic changes. Second, have we looked at the Patriots’ offensive depth chart in 2020? Jakobi Meyers was the team’s leading receiver, with Damiere Byrd behind him.

Cam Newton’s physical limitations

The receiving corps is much improved heading into 2021, and the Patriots spent a significant chunk of change on two free-agent tight ends. The excuses or reasons why Newton lacked success in 2020 will no longer work.

It is safe to say his arm isn’t what it once was. Despite never being a truly accurate passer, Newton had a big arm that could push the ball downfield with outstanding velocity from many platforms.

That’s no longer the case. Newton’s athleticism and arm strength have both diminished due to a career full of injuries, potentially caused by unfair treatment compared to other quarterbacks. He’s still athletic enough to be a dual-threat, but he’ll need to master the Patriots’ offense in 2021 to find success as a passer.

If he does, though, he could be a steal in fantasy drafts and help New England compete for a playoff spot.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch


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