May 6, 2020

Is former NFL MVP Cam Newton’s only option officially a backup role?

For the first time ever, it looks like Superman will be forced to play second fiddle.

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Former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was released by the franchise on March 24. He served as the Panthers starter for nine seasons, and during that near-decade run, he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and he was a 3-time Pro Bowler. In 2015, he was named NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-Pro, all while leading Carolina to a 15-1 regular season record and a berth in Super Bowl 50.

However, that success seems to be a distant fragment of the past, considering today, Newton is without a starting job and doesn’t seem close to acquiring one anytime soon.

For the most part, Newton’s free agency has baffled pundits, many of whom believe that he is better than several current starting quarterbacks. But at this point, those same pundits are just trying to figure out why no NFL teams seem keen to sign Newton.

Nick Wright took a stab at it on First Things First Wednesday morning, saying that Newton’s unemployment must be partly attributed to his superstar persona off the field, considering quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford and Nick Foles were given multiple opportunities throughout the course of their careers based on less success than Newton.

“The funny hats and flamboyant pants, at this point, have to be a part of it. At this point, we’re out of viable options as to why Cam Newton remains unemployed. We have to acknowledge this cannot be just about football … Quarterback play in this league is as such a premium … so this idea that his health or consistency is just keeping him out of the league right now doesn’t hold water to me.”

There have been concerns about Newton’s health, considering he missed 14 games last season with a fracture in his foot.

And, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down NFL team operations in recent months, franchises have not be able to monitor Newton’s health as closely as they would have in offseasons past.

Newton’s former teammate, tight end Greg Olsen, wishes the Panthers would have released Cam a little earlier, so he could have had the opportunity to potentially visit teams in-person.

“I think the timing of everything going on in the world and specifically as it pertains to our country and the NFL, with him coming off the injuries, was just really not an ideal situation. If he would have been released a little earlier, kind of like me, I was able to get out in front, come visit Seattle. Maybe Seattle doesn’t sign me if I don’t have a chance to go out there and meet them and them see me and do my physical.

Olsen was released by the Panthers on Feb. 3 and signed a 1-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 18.

Regardless of the reasons why, Newton is still looking for a job, and a backup position seems to be staring him in the face.

Should Newton, a la Jameis Winston, accept a backup role? Or, should he hold out until he gets a call about a starting job?

Stephen A. Smith not only thinks Cam should wait for a starting job, he thinks Newton should stay sequestered until that starting job presents itself, even if it means missing the 2020 NFL season.

“Cam Newton is not a backup at this point in his career. I think him standing on the sideline as a backup hurts him more than helps him because it let’s everybody see him in a backup role instead of seeing him as who the hell he is.”

Former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody agrees with Smith.

“Cam Newton is not a backup quarterback. They aren’t 32 quarterbacks better than Cam Newton. Hell, there’s not 16 quarterbacks right now that are better than Cam Newton when he is healthy … Remember, before he got injured in 2018, he was having a better statistical year than his MVP year in 2015 … He still has plenty of football ahead of him.”

Newton missed the final two games of the 2018 season after undergoing right shoulder surgery, but in the 14 games prior, he had already set a new career-high in completions (320) and completion percentage (67.5). He had passed for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and his quarterback rating of 94.2 was the second-highest of his career.

He had also rushed for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth also thinks Cam should continue to bid his time, saying that once the season starts, a starting spot will open up somewhere across the NFL.

“I think we’re in a unique quarterback market where just about every team in the league seems set and comfortable with their starter. That will change by Week 3, by Week 4, by Week 8. There will be teams who either have injured quarterbacks or quarterbacks that they are out on … and Cam will have much more leverage then … Right now, if we’re looking at what Jameis Winston set – Cam Newton should absolutely not come and play for $1.1 million, even if he has to wait until next offseason.”

On April 28, Winston signed on to be Drew Brees‘ backup in New Orleans for just over $1 million.

However, Wright isn’t sure if sitting out and shunning a backup role is the right gameplan for Newton. He believes that banking on a potential injury or poor quarterback performance opening up a starting job might be a long shot.

“I don’t think Cam’s going to be brought in by a team unless they’re in desperate straits if they’re talking about bringing him in during the flow of the season … It’s a dangerous gambit that he is engaging in right now.”

Former NFL running back Brian Westbrook agrees, and he believes that Cam’s best option is to come in as a backup and end up the starter through a quarterback competition.

“Teams are still questioning how healthy is Cam … Can he be healthy? Can he learn the offense quick enough? And I think they still have questions as far as his arm … Can he be accurate enough to help us win football games? … If I had an opportunity to compete for the No. 1 position, that’s what I would want.”

In the end, Cam Newton appears to have a few different options – he just doesn’t seem to have the one option he desperately wants.

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