Former Carolina Panthers All-Pro quarterback Cam Newton remains a free agent. Let that sink in. Newton is still on the market, while veritable unknowns Jarrett Stidham, Gardner Minshew, and Tyrod Taylor will be under center for their respective teams. Joe Flacco signed with the New York Jets. Andy Dalton is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Nick Foles will back up Mitchell Trubisky for the Chicago Bears. Yet, Cam Newton doesn’t have a job. He’s a former Heisman Trophy award winner. Newton led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record. He’s only 31 and has won an MVP award. Newton has thrown for nearly 30,000 yards, scored 182 touchdowns, and started Super Bowl 50 during his nine-year career. But, as of June 1, he remains unsigned. Why? It’s time to answer…when will the Cam Newton free agency saga end?
The Reasons Why Cam Newton Is Still a Free Agent
The former Auburn quarterback has taken a lot of punishment. His lack of a job may prove Newton’s litany of injuries has caught up with him. Newton’s injuries to his throwing shoulder and foot make him a risky free-agent signing. And teams hate risks.
The Panthers began their 2018-19 season with a 6-2 record. Newton had 17 touchdown passes and three rushing touchdowns. In a Week 10 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, T.J. Watt illegally struck Cam’s throwing shoulder with his helmet. Newton stayed in the game. But after Watt’s helmet-to-shoulder hit, “Super Cam” did not match his MVP-caliber play of the first half. The Panthers finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Newton underwent shoulder surgery right after the regular season. It was the second time Newton’s throwing shoulder needed surgery.
The former MVP entered the 2019 season hoping to prove the doubters wrong. Unfortunately, Newton suffered another significant injury early in the season. The quarterback endured a Lisfranc injury to his foot that limited his mobility. The days of Super Cam may be over. But even worse, Newton hasn’t had a chance to prove talent evaluators wrong because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bad Time to Rehab Injuries
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down normal NFL operations indefinitely. So this off-season has looked radically different from previous years. ESPN reported that one of the issues facing teams considering signing Newton is that there’s no way to know what kind of player they’d be signing. The only proof that Newton is healthy is his own workout posts on social media.
“Part of what makes Cam, Cam,” said an official with one NFL team that has been in the veteran quarterback market this off-season, “is that he’s a freak athlete.” But the question remains, is Newton still that athlete. Only time will tell.
When the Panthers released Newton in March, speculation arose that several teams were interested in signing the veteran as a starting quarterback. The Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New England Patriots were linked to Newton at different times. But, the signing never happened. So with fewer options, is Newton willing to sign as a backup quarterback? No one knows for sure.
“The thought process has been all along that Newton wants to be a starter,” said Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Rapoport added, “He does want to be a starter, former MVP, he should be a starter but the reality is that there just aren’t any starting jobs available, so now — maybe a little bit of a shift in philosophy here — my understanding is that Cam Newton has not ruled out taking a backup job in the right situation. It remains to be seen where and when that will be, but obviously, Newton is still unemployed and really only has two choices: take a potentially prime backup job right now or wait until another starter gets injured, which may or may not come.”
NFL teams with young starters could benefit from signing Newton. If healthy, he’s talented and experienced. But Super Cam is facing another obstacle before joining a new roster. Newton, whether true or not, comes with baggage.
The Diva Persona
Cam Newton has been a lightning rod since stepping onto the field in Gainesville, Florida. Dan Graziano’s article in ESPN also wrote, “Newton, whether you agree or not, is going to be viewed by some teams as a less-than-ideal backup option because of that old NFL buzzword “distraction.”
Newton has garnered eyeballs with each stop along his football journey–the transfer to Auburn, the NFL Draft, and the Carolina Panthers. Detractors call him a diva, a prima donna, and selfish player because he didn’t dive on a fumble during the Super Bowl and because he’s outspoken and wears outrageous fashion. Up to this point in his NFL career, Newton’s detractors have looked beyond the drama and focused on his ridiculous athletic ability. As he’s gotten older, all his perceived flaws are magnified.
Is Newton finally injury-free? We don’t know. Is he a “cancer?” We’re not sure. Will he accept a backup role? According to media reports, yes. But the real mystery of the Cam Newton free agency saga is whether the color of Newton’s skin is a factor in his unemployment.
Black Quarterback Lives Matter
Race relations are dominating U.S. daily life every day. The NFL’s checkered history with African-American quarterbacks is real. There have been plenty of aging non-black quarterbacks who become backups later in life. Newton isn’t an old quarterback yet. He’s 31 and even if he’s not the freakish athlete he was as a rookie, he’s still more athletic than many quarterbacks holding an NFL clipboard. Newton has successfully led NFL offenses, not just with his arms and legs, but with his brains. He’s a polished pocket passer. He’s not just an athlete.
Black quarterbacks are intelligent enough to lead NFL teams. We hope that all these whispers about Cam as a distraction, diva, or cancer aren’t code for the NFL’s tumultuous history of race relations. The Cam Newton free agency saga needs to end soon.