Cam Newton deserved better than this.
The Carolina Panthers released Newton on Tuesday, saving 19 million in cap space in the process. While the release wasnt a surprise, the way the Panthers did was a total surprise considering who the player was.
Cam Newton arrived as the #1 overall pick in 2011 to Charlotte and 1st year head coach Ron Rivera. From the very start, we knew we had something special. Newton threw for over 400 yards in both of his first starts, an NFL record.
The Panthers would be up and down during Newton’s career in Charlotte. They would miss the playoffs the first two years of Newton’s career as a Panther. But the Panthers had something they hadnt really had, possibly ever….national relevance.
No player in the league held a press conference like Cam Newton. No player in the league had message boards and twitter and Facebook threads talking about what they wore to the podium 2-3 days AFTER Sunday. Cam Newton did. He knew what he was doing. Swag. Drip. Whatever you want to call it. Whether it was a black housecoat and slippers, a three piece suit, sweats, Hawaiian shirts…it didnt matter. Cam Newton walked to a beat of a different drummer, from day one. Many loved it. Many others couldnt wrap their minds around it. Lots hated it….and him.
Newton was cerebral in terms of his image and style. But he was growing as a player, slowly in front of our eyes. In the early part of his pro career, Newton realized that teams were keying in on how long he stayed kneeled down in the huddle in later parts of games, a sign of being tired. What did Cam do? He started kneeling down for EVERY huddle, from start to finish. He could run the ball. But he was more than a rushing QB. He was a unique figure…a unicorn of sorts. Fellow teammates and opposing players loved him. Everything about him.
He felt invincible at times. In 2014, Newton flipped a truck on a highway just outside Bank of America Stadium, on the way to watch film during a game week. He miraculously survived with minor bruises and a few scrapes and sores. He missed two weeks. He was our Superman. The important word being, OURS. He belonged to us. We had never had someone this gifted, this athletic, this charismatic, call the Carolinas home.
That incident led to the Panthers winning out the remaining few weeks of the 2014 season and led to the magical run of 2015…the most success in the history of the Carolina Panthers franchise. 15-1 regular season. Dabbed on the league, making the dance move go national. Cam Newton did that. Dismantled the hated Seattle Seahawks and then the Arizona Cardinals at BOA to go to Super Bowl 50 as a heavy favorite. Cam won league MVP. His peers voted him the #1 player in the NFL Top 100. This was Cam Newton’s peak. To date.
And even then he had detractors. Why does he dress so funny? Why does he use that font on Instagram? Why cant he just be normal? Nevermind that the team was having so much fun winning. The fanbase had NEVER been on the side of bully…always being the ones being bullied. Cam Newton led that charge. He gave the fans SWAG. The Panthers became must see TV…even if it was just one season…
Moments in that season should live forever in Panthers history…the dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day in front of a national audience announced that the team had arrived. Newton carried 10 Atlanta Falcons 9 yards for a first down in a regular season game. He hyped first downs, he dabbed and danced, he took pictures on the sidelines. He also started giving touchdown balls to kids in the stands, home OR away and got the rest of the team to follow suit.
Newton was super active in the Charlotte community, often seen riding his scooter through the streets of the city. His Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless and less fortunate grew into huge events with each passing year. He played “Santa Cam” during Christmas, donating thousands of dollars worth of gifts to kids in the city and surrounding area.
Newton led those Panthers to the Super Bowl after the 2015 regular season…and they lost to the Denver Broncos 24 -10. The Panthers picked a bad day to have a bad day. Newton, emotionally upset, abruptly left a post game press conference after the game, after hearing Denver Broncos players celebrating just one curtain away during his meeting with the media. During the game, a fumbled ball that Newton didnt immediately jump on became the focus of the man, the player, the career going forward. It wasnt fair. To be on the verge of immortality, 60 mins away from a 18-1 season, with a Super Bowl ring and league MVP. One game took all of that away. Those two moments, the missed opportunity to fall on a fumble…and the abrupt ending to the post game press conference would follow Newton the rest of his career with Carolina.
If the Panthers win Super Bowl 50, that team would have been in a class of very few teams as one of the best ever. EVER. Think about that. The 1984 San Francisco 49ers. The 1985 Chicago Bears. Both won the Super Bowl with one loss total on their records. The 1972 Miami Dolphins finished undefeated with a ring. The Panthers would have become the 3rd team in the modern era to win a Super Bowl with one loss on their record. That’s how close Newton and the Panthers were to immortality.
Things slowly went downhill from there. The opening night of the 2016 season saw the Panthers in a rematch vs the Broncos in Denver on a Thursday night. The nation watched as Newton was battered, hit in the head multiple times and saw no flags thrown. It was as if the referees had decided that Cam wasnt really a QB, so the rules for protecting the QB did not apply. The Broncos attempted murder on national TV that night, and hardly anyone blinked. Newton was really never the same after that night.
The Panthers missed the playoffs in 2016. A bounce back year in 2017 saw the Panthers go 11-5 and make the playoffs, only to lose to division rival New Orleans in the wildcard round.
2018 saw the Panthers featured in Amazon Prime’s “All or Nothing” documentary series that followed the Panthers all season long. The franchise had never been this exposed before behind the scenes. The series gave viewers a glimpse of Newton that many had never seen. A brutal blowout loss to Pittsburgh was the exclamation point on the season, as Newton took a huge hit to his throwing shoulder, an injury that would linger the rest of the season until Newton had to sit the final two games and eventually have off season surgery. The End Game was on at that point. New Panthers owner David Tepper, the richest owner in the NFL, wanted to put his stamp on the team. He basically gave Head Coach Ron Rivera a season to turn things around.
In 2019, the season fell apart quickly as Newton was injured in the 3rd preseason game vs the Patriots. The injury to his foot would linger and worsen two games into the season and Newton was benched, and eventually put on season ending injured reserve after only playing 2 games. We didnt know it at the time, but the Cam Newton era was over in Carolina.
Rivera would be fired after 10 games. The Panthers wandered through the rest of the season with Kyle Allen at QB. Tepper said that mediocrity would no longer be accepted with the franchise. The Panthers hired Baylor head coach Matt Rhule and began to clean house.
Anyone with a large deal was shipped out. All Pro Middle Linebacker Luke Kuechly abruptly retired from the game. Newton’s all pro offensive guard Trae Turner was traded. Safety Eric Reid was cut. The Panthers were stripping down the roster to the studs. So on that end, Newton had to have seen the writing on the wall at some point before this week. But what the Panthers did next would be surprising.
Instead of cutting Newton weeks ago, when there were multiple options still available for the QB, they held on to him…until they could secure who THEY wanted. That would be former Saints back up QB Teddy Bridgewater. The Panthers started the week saying they gave Newton his wish to pursue a trade with other teams. Newton immediately told the world he never asked for a trade. The switch was on.
The Panthers signed Bridgewater a few days later, and put out social media releases that they were proud of Newton and his career and that they wished him success going forward. it was a messy breakup carried out in digital form online for the world to see. In one fell swoop, the Panthers took the rug out from underneath their captain, their leader, their face of the franchise. They took any trade value he may have had away, by signing Bridgewater to a 3 year deal…signaling to the league that if they just simply waited long enough…Newton would be cut. The trade market dried up. The market for starting QBs dried up. And THEN….the Panthers finally cut Newton.
Did Newton and his agent ask for a 5 year extension from the Panthers? Yes. Did they offer 2? Yes. But it was clear from the midpoint of this season, that the Panthers and owner David Tepper were much more interested in rebuilding. And rebuilding with a 31 year old former league MVP that commands attention wherever he goes, who hates losing, who wears his emotions on his sleeve…would not work long term. New Head Coach Matt Rhule even went on TV and gushed about the opportunity to coach Cam Newton, proclaiming he wanted to win a Super Bowl with the former MVP. All the signs were there that the franchise was willing to move on from Newton, they were just waiting for the right time to do so.
Which was fine. Move on Carolina. Thats the right of David Tepper. Its his franchise. The franchise had never really had a full reset before and it was refreshing to see something different. The Panthers have never had back to back winning seasons in 27 years of the franchise. It was time for the change. From top to bottom. And the Top was Cam Newton.
But the way the Panthers dumped Newton on the curb flat out stinks. Ron Rivera was fired mid week of the season and allowed to have a press conference to thank the players and franchise days afterwards in the Panthers facility. Luke Kuechly was allowed to record and post a heartfelt goodbye video to the fans from the Panthers social media. Even Steve Smith, who was dumped in a similar fashion by the previous regime years prior, was allowed to come back home to Charlotte and reconcile with the franchise.
With Newton it feels different. It feels cold. It feels wrong. For a man that was the face of the franchise for the past decade, for his run in the Carolinas to end this way seems…out of character for the franchise. With the parting of ways, the Cam Newton haters feel justified. Happy. Glad that the weird dressing, celebrating, flamboyant QB is finally gone. But here’s the thing….you’re going to miss him. You’re going to miss the press conference outfits. Making jokes about his style, his swagger. Acting as if he was a trouble maker, although he never had any issues off the field during his entire stay in Charlotte. You’re going to miss his activity in the community. His love for kids. His love for Charlotte.
Charlotte, you’re going to miss Cam Newton. And looking back, in some ways…we never really deserved him. He never fully got the love of a fan base that recognized the talent that he truly was. Is. Newton will emerge again…he’s only 31 years old. Unless he decides to walk away, which at this point with the injuries…no one would blame him. In some ways, it may be the smartest decision for Newton at this point. No one wants to see Cam Newton as a back up QB. For many fans, they would rather have 8 seasons of this version of Cam Newton than 14 seasons of Cam Newton where the last half of his career hes a shell of his former playing self. Whatever happens next…Newton didnt deserve the exit he received from Carolina. He just didnt.
And Charlotte…and the Carolinas didnt deserve Newton. We never fully understood what we had. And now…we never really will.
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