Thursday afternoon, the Carolina Panthers shocked folks around the league by meeting with and signing veteran free agent quarterback Cam Newton. Newton had spent nine years with the Panthers' organization before being released in the spring of 2020.
Newton latched on with the New England Patriots for one season where he led the team to a 7-8 record in 15 starts. When this year's regular-season schedule came out, fans had last week's game circled which would have marked the return of Newton to Bank of America Stadium with the visiting Patriots. Instead, that homecoming gets pushed back a couple of weeks and will feature Newton back in the Panther blue and silver. New England drafted Mac Jones out of Alabama and surprisingly opted to release Newton before the start of the season and roll with the rookie right out of the gate. Newton fielded interest from a handful of teams throughout the season but never engaged in serious negotiations until Carolina head coach Matt Rhule called earlier this week.
"I came in on Tuesday after learning the extent of Sam's injury, got together with Scott [Fitterer] and everybody else, and just looking at options as we move forward, knew that P.J. [Walker] would be the starting quarterback this week. Obviously, [we] signed Matt Barkley earlier in the week. He was someone we had pin-pointed for a while who can come in and do an excellent job as a veteran player. After we talked and deliberated, I went to my office, got on the phone, and called Cam. I asked him if he had any interest in coming back to the Carolina Panthers, he emphatically said yes. He and I had a good conversation. We decided to let his representatives and Scott and our people here to start to work out a deal. This morning, Cam flew here and met with David Tepper and Scott Fitterer. I wasn't at that conversation, I was getting ready for the game but it sounds like they had a good conversation and Cam is now getting his physical."
The deal between Newton and the Panthers will run through the remainder of the season and could go up to $10 million ($4.5 million guaranteed). With Sam Darnold (fractured scapula) expected to be out 4-6 weeks, Matt Rhule felt like this was a great opportunity to bring Newton back to Charlotte.
"We lost our starting quarterback and we need a starting quarterback. P.J. [Walker] is in that role right now and that doesn't mean he'll lose that role, we just need as many good players as possible. When you have a guy with Cam's ability level sitting out there, we have an open opportunity - we have a team that we feel like can win. We have the 2nd ranked defense. We haven't put it all together yet. Christian [McCaffrey] is back, some things are starting to hopefully come into place and we owe it to our players, we owe it to our fans to try to go win. To me, it was just a no-brainer."
Of course, fans remember that when Newton was released by the Panthers, it wasn't the smoothest of all breakups. The team waited deep into the offseason before making a decision on whether to keep Newton or explore a trade. By then, most teams had signed a quarterback in free agency or had plans to take a quarterback in the upcoming draft. After no trade partner was found, Carolina released Newton.
Matt Rhule told reporters Thursday that if he could go back, he would have changed how things were handled but said that his conversation with Cam earlier this week went extremely well with no hostility toward each other for how things went down a year and a half ago.
"I won't go into specifics of our conversation but Cam Newton is a pro. We made a football decision at the time based on his health. We weren't sure what his health was. We had to kind of make a decision at the time and Cam understands that. He understands that these are football decisions and football-based evaluations that you have to make. There wasn't anything but an amicable conversation. At the end of the day, Cam and I did spend two months together. He was here at rehab and treatment, trying to get his shoulder right. I did see him several days a week so I did have a good feel for who he is. I know he's a competitor, I know that he's tough - he's everything that I believe and talk about. At the time, we weren't sure if he was healthy. Anytime you look back on things you always say I wish I could have done this a little differently but there was nothing but good feelings in that conversation."
Once Newton passes his physical, he will be cleared to practice immediately now that he has been vaccinated. The belief is that he could get out on the practice field on Friday for the team's walkthrough in preparation for Sunday's game at Arizona. However, Rhule does not expect him to be active this week.
"I don't ever rule anything out but we just had our Thursday practice. He wasn't involved with that. I think with any veteran player, they can learn things quickly, so we're not really ruling anything out but that's not really kind of where we're looking right now."
If Newton is not active on Sunday, this would paint the perfect storyline for his return. The Panthers will return to Bank of America Stadium next week and will welcome in the Washington Football Team who is led by Ron Rivera, former Panthers head coach. Rivera and Newton both arrived in Carolina in 2011 and both exited following the 2019 season.
You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us Twitter:
Facebook - @PanthersOnSI