After a rocky 0-2 start, including a stunning loss at home to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Carolina Panthers’ supposedly promising season was hanging in the balance. The team needed a boost, something to act as a catalyst to turn the season around. They got just that with the benching of Cam Newton.
After being ailed by a gruesome shoulder injury the second half of last season, Newton finally succumbed to a lisfranc fracture in his foot, leaving him ruled out “indefinitely.” “But wait,” some might ask, “why would the loss of a former MVP quarterback help a team?” The Panthers were forced to trot out their second year, undrafted quarterback from the University of Houston, Kyle Allen, in Newton’s stead. Logically speaking, the Panthers’ season should be over. And yet that is not what has happened. With Allen under center, the Panthers have turned that 0-2 into a very respectable 2-2, with an impressive 16-10 win over the Houston Texans this past Sunday. This team obviously has potential, but was unable to realize it with Cam as the starting quarterback.
How did this happen, though? How did Cam Newton go from an MVP season and leading his team to the Superbowl, to a player that Panther faithfuls cheer for being hurt? In order to answer that question, we first have to take a little trip down memory lane, all the way back to the hellish year of 2011.
With the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Cameron Newton out of Auburn University. Despite this being an absolutely loaded draft class (it would be impossible to list all the talent that came out of this draft, but just for context, Von Miller, JJ Watt and Julio Jones were all members of this class), Newton was the consensus number one pick, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Auburn Tigers to a national championship victory in 2010. For the Panthers, picking him was a no-brainer.
Starting hot right out of the gate his rookie season, Newton lived up to his first overall pick status. While the Panthers only ended up with a 6-10 record, Newton tossed the pig skin for over 4,000 yards, won offensive rookie of the year honors and was named a pro-bowl alternate in the stead of Superbowl-bound Eli Manning.
The next three years were a mixed bag – under Newton, the Panthers went 7-9 in 2012, 12-4 in 2013 and 7-8-1 in 2014 (he missed two games during the 2014 season). The Panthers saw postseason berths in 2012 and 2014, but never got very far.
The 2015 season, however, was where Newton cemented himself as a superstar. Leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record, Newton was awarded MVP honors as well as offensive player of the year. After beating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, Cam and the Panthers found themselves in the Superbowl, only to be denied the Lombardi Trophy by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Newton followed up his MVP season with three more seasons full of ups and downs, with the Panthers going 6-10 in 2016, 11-5 in 2017 and 7-9 in 2018. Carolina made the playoffs only once during those years, falling in the divisional round of 2017.
Many of the team’s problems have been attributed to their quarterback. Bolstered by a stout defense and one of the best running backs in the league, Christian McCaffrey, this team should have success. Unfortunately for them, they are helmed by a quarterback whose skills are of a bygone era. Cam Newton has never been much of a thrower, only reaching 4,000 yards passing once in his career (2011). He has always been reliant on his feet to make plays, but unfortunately for him, quarterbacks who rely only on their legs and never learn to throw rarely make it in this league.
There are countless examples of this, including once-promising star Michael Vick and Vince Young. Especially in today’s age of air raid and high-powered offenses, rushing-reliant quarterbacks can rarely keep up. Furthermore, rushing QBs are significantly more prone to injury considering the vulnerable positions they put themselves in every play, an issue that has proven a problem for Newton over these past few years.
Do not get me wrong, in no way is Newton done in the NFL. Even if he never plays another snap for the Panthers, it is extremely likely that another team will make use of his services. However, if he does not develop his passing game past that of an average quarterback, it is unlikely he will ever be a consistent franchise quarterback again.