Opinion: Cam Newton might be short on NFL options as Panthers marriage unravels

Nate Davis
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Cam Newton – apparently begrudgingly – has joined the NFL's 2020 game of quarterback musical chairs.

Don't be surprised if he's forced to wait awhile for a seat.

Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers announced they'd authorized the 2015 league MVP to pursue a trade while saying the obligatory flattering things about Newton. Yet the appreciative comments from owner David Tepper and GM Marty Hurney also made it abundantly clear that the organization is moving forward without the man who served as the face of the franchise for the past decade, did all those Superman celebrations following touchdowns and first downs and guided Carolina to Super Bowl 50.

"Cam is one of the all-time greats in Panthers history," said Tepper, among other things, before concluding.

"He's unique and I wish him all the best."

Hurney: "Every year difficult decisions are made and they are never easy. We have been working with Cam and his agent to find the best fit for him moving forward and he will always be a Carolina Panther in our hearts."

Taking such plaudits for what they're worth, it's notable that the Panthers are engaged to free agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, according to multiple reports.

So, perhaps understandable that Newton didn't reciprocate with bouquets of his own –even if that might not be the best approach for a man known for diva-esque tendencies as he's evidently forced into the job market.

Replying to one of the Panthers' Instagram posts, Newton wrote (in faux Norwegian font or some such): "Stop with the word play. I never asked for it. There is no dodging this one; I love the Panthers to death and will always love you guys. Please do not try and play me, or manipulate the narrative and act like I wanted this; you forced me into this. Love."

It remains to be seen if any of the league's other teams fall in love with Newton, who could be peddling his services amid significant disadvantages:

– Unlike signing a free agent such as Jameis Winston, a team would have to be willing to trade something in exchange for Newton, who's under contract in 2020 with a palatable base salary of $18.6 million. Still, if the Panthers are as motivated as they seem to dump Newton, this could be a minor hurdle.

– Any market Newton might have – Chargers? Patriots? – seems unlikely to develop until free agency and maybe even the draft have played out.

– In a country trying to operate under the pall of Coronavirus, when will it be viable for Newton, the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft, to not only get a clean bill of health from overburdened doctors but also be able to reasonably travel in order to convince interested teams that he's healed? And don't forget, club facilities are essentially shuttered at present, in no position to stage the kind of workouts Newton might need to provide evidence he still has the skill set to be a transformative force.

– Even if you're willing to assume some team – one that might be looking to create competition atop its QB depth chart – is willing to take a flier on Newton, COVID-19 could put a damper on such plans. The longer OTAs, minicamps and training camp are postponed, the less time Newton would have to integrate into a new environment for what projects as a one-year trial. Could be why Chicago opted for Nick Foles on Wednesday.

Newton, who turns 31 in May, has had two shoulder surgeries since 2017 and was limited to two games in 2019 by a Lisfranc injury. Since his MVP campaign, he's played a full 16-game schedule once.

Perhaps most worrisome, he's been on the losing end of his last eight appearances (going back to 2018) and has generally appeared to be a shell of himself, his passer rating never creeping above 72.1 in his five most recent starts.

As imposing as that 6-5, 245-pound physique once was, it's absorbed ample punishment over the last nine years. And given Newton hasn't developed into a pocket passer, how effective will he be in a new system if his suite of abilities – namely his signature mobility – is no longer viable?

The timing of this so-called "narrative" is hardly ideal for Newton. But in a rapidly changing world and ever-shifting football landscape, he may have to adapt to an unwelcome reality. 

Carolina's longtime QB1 may have to prepare to be someone else's QB2.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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