March 6, 2021


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Cam Newton isn’t game ready, and that makes trading him difficult

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You might have seen videos on Instagram lately of Cam Newton throwing a football. Shots zoomed in on his feet and shoulders. He is seen throwing passes with Panthers teammates and training throughout the facility.

Everyone wants to know what’s going on with the Newton. What’s next. That’s why a 47-second video tease from the Panthers’ team website Tuesday showing coach Matt Rhule sharing his candid thoughts intrigued so many.

But despite the flashy video, nothing new was revealed that gave more insight into how Rhule feels toward Newton. It’s more of the same. And that’s not surprising for now. Waiting may be necessary.

Rhule made his first public comments since his introductory news conference in January concerning Newton at the NFL Combine. He expressed his excitement in coaching the former league MVP, but didn’t go as far as to say that he would be the team’s starter in 2020. Instead, he said that he would take time before naming starters at any position for the upcoming season.

“I think it’s really important to me as I go in there that first year, I want to create a culture of competition, I want to create a culture where nothing’s promised to anybody,” Rhule said. “I think in years two and three, maybe it’ll be a little bit different. But that being said, I don’t think that has anything to do with Cam. That just has to do with overall philosophy.”

The new head coach also went on to reaffirm what team owner David Tepper had been saying for months about the need for Newton to be healthy before any concrete steps can be taken.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s next for us,” Rhule said. “We have to make sure that we continue to get him healthy. And he’s doing a great job of that, I want to make sure I say that — he’s going above and beyond in that regard. When healthy, there’s no doubt about who he is or what he can do. We just have to get him there.”

Well, he’s getting there, at least to an extent. Newton’s clearly throwing and people with knowledge of the situation have described him as on pace in terms of his recovery. But while he is throwing and working hard, Rhule described the quarterback as doing a “great job” to get himself healthy, he is not in game shape today. He’s not 100 percent, certainly.

And that comes back to a potential trade. If the Panthers did want to trade Newton, the options will likely not be plentiful. Passing a physical would be difficult. There’s still a level of unknown with his health as he comes off of two shoulder surgeries and a foot surgery in about the last three years. The 14 games he missed this past year were more than he had in his entire eight-year career prior to 2019.

As he closes in on his 31st birthday with one-year left on his deal, the questions may continue to be asked as free agency is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The Panthers are still figuring things out, and Newton is still getting healthy. There could be “what if’s” surrounding the decision to try and avoid surgery and not undergoing the procedure until a month after going on injured reserve this past fall, but that would be pointless.

Newton’s videos can be taken as a message to potential teams or a message to the Panthers as coaches are unable to be a part of any football activities with players at this time.

But reading too much into “Trust the process” hashtags or anything else right now doesn’t do any good. Newton has expressed interest time and time again in staying in Carolina. Rhule said that no player is safe from a trade. Right now nothing has changed Anything is possible as free agency begins, just as it was before. Just keep this in mind while dissecting every Instagram post for clues.

About that trade for Okung …

The Panthers’ tentative trade with the Chargers of guard Trai Turner for left tackle Russell Okung earlier this month raised a lot of eyebrows. Okung has one-year left on his contract and is going to cost $13 million, per Spotrac. But the signing of a veteran offensive lineman, filling a position that Carolina has struggled to find consistency in, doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of Newton’s future, despite what some may have indicated.

There are a couple of situations in which the Okung addition would make sense. First, if the Panthers are planning on Newton being the starter in 2020, having a secure left tackle is logical. Someone to help protect the quarterback from getting hurt. If they are going to give 2020 any sort of a go with Newton, keeping him healthy (if he is fully healthy) comes first.

But that’s not the only situation in which the trade for Okung would fit. If the Panthers were to draft or bring in a young quarterback, having a reliable left tackle would be the best situation to put that young player in. If that is the case, they would want that young player to learn and not be in the position that Kyle Allen and Will Grier were last year, learning how to play professional football behind an inconsistent and injury-riddled line. For now, we’ll have to wait to see the full picture of the team’s plan.

Required reading

+ What Kyle Allen’s new contract with Panthers says about Carolina’s quarterback situation

+ Analyzing the Panthers’ weak offensive line and what options they have in 2020

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