By all accounts, Cam Newton is the greatest figure in Panthers franchise history.
He was the franchise’s very first overall pick and he immediately changed the organization of the Panthers. After a 2-14 campaign, in which Carolina was outmatched by opponents by 212 points, the new Newton-led offense looked different.
Not once, while Newton was the quarterback, did the offense score less than 330 points in a season, the Panthers only once scored more than 330 in the previous five seasons. Newton took them to the playoffs four times, including a Super Bowl, single-handedly doubling the number of NFC championships and playoffs the franchise had. He was the only NFL MVP in franchise history, and when he left Carolina, he was the franchise leader in passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and passing yards.
Which, of course, begs the question: Why was he released in the first place?
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As Newton prepares for his first Carolina start since 2019, Sporting News looks back on his release.
Why did the Panthers release Cam Newton?
When the Panthers brought Newton back, head coach Matt Rhule was open about the decision to end the franchise quarterback in 2020.
“I won’t go into the details of our conversation, but Cam Newton is a professional. We made a football decision at the time based on his health. We weren’t sure what his health was. The time and Cam understands that. He understands that these are football decisions and football based evaluations that you have to make. There was nothing but an amicable conversation,” said Rhule, according to All Panthers. “At the time, we weren’t sure he was healthy. Every time you look back at things, you always say I wish I’d done this a little differently, but there were only good feelings in that conversation.”
To better understand what led to the divorce, it’s worth looking back on his time in Charlotte since he was drafted first overall in 2011.
He stormed onto the scene in his rookie year, starting all 16 games and passing 4,051 yards with 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, while rushing 126 times for 14 touchdowns and 706 yards. The season earned him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He continued to perform well for the Panthers, leading them to a 7-9 record in 2012, a 12-4 season in 2013 before briefly stumbling at 5-8-1 in 2015.
Newton’s breakthrough MVP and NFC Championship-winning season was one that NFL fans could definitely see coming. While the interceptions and low completion rate were worrisome with accuracy, Newton’s dual-threat ability had surpassed expectations previously placed on mobile quarterbacks and glimpsed a potential pair in the NFL that had achieved.
In 2015 came the breakout campaign. He passed for 35 touchdowns, threw 10 interceptions, had 3,837 passing yards and a 59.8 percent completion rate. He also rushed 132 times for 636 yards and 10 more scores.
But after the 15-1 season, Newton struggled. He finished the 2016 season with a career-low 52.9 completion percentage, with 19 passing touchdowns, 3,509 passing yards, 14 interceptions, 90 carries, 359 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He improved his game in 2017 and in 2018 put together the best individual season since 2015, finishing with a career-best completion rate of 67.9, but the team still stumbled to a 6-8 finish.
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However, towards the end of the 2018 season, there were signs that problems and injuries could follow. In Weeks 10 through 15, Newton had nine passing touchdowns and nine interceptions, with 1,502 passing yards. He also rushed less, attempting just 28 passes for 146 yards with no scores in those six games. After Week 15, it was revealed he was dealing with a shoulder injury and missed the remaining two games of the season before undergoing an off-season shoulder surgery.
Newton appeared in just two games in 2019 before being placed on IR for a Lisfranc fracture. His last appearance in a Panther uniform was on Week 2 on September 12, 2019.
At the time, Newton, who was 30 years old, was showing signs of both regression and possible injuries. As a quarterback partially dangerous to his legs, Newton was understandably seen as a potentially risky gamble.
Newton was about to enter the final year of his five-year extension he signed in 2015 for his MVP campaign, and while he wanted one more extension to stay in Carolina, the organization was clearly unenthused by the move. idea.
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But it wasn’t just the injuries and the lack of consistency. Carolina was a franchise in transition. David Tepper bought the team in 2018 and was refurbishing the organization. Head coach Ron Rivera was fired before the end of the 2019 campaign, and in January former Baylor coach Matt Rhule was brought in to coach the team. Rhule brought in new coaches, including former LSU who passed game coordinator Joe Brady, to shape the offense.
The Panthers attempted to trade Newton to make some form of return for the franchise quarterback, but the free agent market was filled with quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, who ended up eliminating several potential suitors for a trade. The Panthers announced on March 24, 2020 that Newton would be released. The next day they announced that they had brought Teddy into Bridgewater.
“Cam has done a lot for this organization and the Carolinas,” general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement:. “Everyone saw his performance on the pitch. I was privileged to see how hard he worked off the pitch and his dedication to this team when no one was watching. He is the ultimate competitor and it hurts him physically to lose. He wanted this team to victory many times over and will always be regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of this franchise. His contributions to the team, this community and the game of football will have a lasting impact on our organization.”
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