Carolina Panthers: Why a Cam Newton return would benefit the team in 2020

After his tenure with the Carolina Panthers was seemingly over, recent reports are optimistic that Cam Newton will return in 2020.

Throughout the second half of the 2019 season and the very beginning of January, reports indicated that Cam Newton would likely be traded by the Carolina Panthers this offseason. More recent reports, though, have begun to suggest that barring a major change, Newton will be back with the team that drafted him in 2020. In December, the quarterback made it clear that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Panthers. Prior to the Super Bowl last weekend, Newton said in an interview that he “absolutely” believes he’ll be in Carolina for the upcoming season. While nothing will be made official until his health is assessed, most signs seem to be pointing to a return to the Panthers in 2020.

Assuming Newton returns, his presence will give the Panthers some much-needed draft flexibility in April.

If Newton does in fact suit up for a 10th season in Carolina, his return will undoubtedly take some of the pressure off of GM Marty Hurney come draft night. Behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, none of the signal-callers in the upcoming draft class are considered elite. With that being said, it’s likely that neither of those two players would be available when the Panthers pick at seventh overall. As a result, having Newton back would eliminate the immediate need for a new franchise quarterback, and would allow Hurney the opportunity to fill a variety of other team needs.

Perhaps the most glaring hole from the 2019 team was the offensive line. Carolina’s offensive line was tied for the most sacks allowed, and didn’t rank much better in short-yardage situations. With Greg Van Roten and Daryl Williams set to become free agents, it’s possible that the Panthers could have to replace two players who each started at least 11 games this past season. Over at left tackle, the position remains a revolving door. Williams and rookies Greg Little and Dennis Daley each started games on the blindside in 2019, and despite Little and Daley showing promise, neither may be the team’s left tackle of the future.

If the Panthers decide to go the defensive route, then there are multiple top-flight prospects at each position that they could consider. Isaiah Simmons, who is one of the most versatile players in the draft, could be an ideal replacement for Luke Kuechly. If not Simmons, then Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray could be a fit. Carolina could also choose to pair a young, run-stuffing defensive tackle alongside Kawann Short to help bolster what was a pitiful run defense this past season. Derrick Brown or recent riser Javon Kinlaw could be options if the Panthers decide to go in that direction. On the back end, the Panthers could decide to go with a ball-hawking safety like LSU’s Grant Delpit. Ultimately, if Carolina were to draft a defensive player at any position with the seventh pick, they would certainly have plenty of enticing options.

Aside from simply anchoring the quarterback spot, Newton would present the team with a bargain considering his talent.

No matter if you love him or hate it, it’s hard to deny Newton’s talent on the football field. When healthy, he’s one of the most difficult players in the league to defend, and could help open up even more opportunities for Carolina’s playmakers moving forward. DJ Moore had almost 1,200 receiving yards with Kyle Allen at quarterback, and Christian McCaffrey had one of the best seasons of any running back ever in 2019, even with opposing defenses stacking the box against him. Considering how dangerous those two players were without a consistently viable threat at quarterback, it would be awfully intriguing to see what Moore and McCaffrey could do with Newton in the lineup.

Despite the money that could be saved by trading or releasing the former MVP, Newton’s contract is actually a bargain compared to other quarterbacks. When healthy, he’s at worst an average quarterback, and at best one of the top-five players in the league. In the last eight games that Newton played in good health, the Panthers went 6-2 and were being talked about as potential Super Bowl contenders. During that run in 2018, Newton was self-proclaimed to be playing “the best football of [his] life,” and was putting up better numbers than his MVP season in 2015. With that being said, we’re talking about a guy who is just two years removed from being one of the best in the league, and has now had essentially an entire year to rest and heal his body.

Perhaps more than anything, Newton has made Panthers football “fun” since arriving in 2011.

Despite what many people think about Cam Newton as a man, it’s hard to refute the notion that the former number-one pick has revolutionized the franchise’s culture. Before his arrival in 2011, the Panthers were not far from being an afterthought in their own city. For 16 Sundays a year the Carolina Panthers were “cool,” but other than that, most people didn’t care. Since Newton got to Charlotte, though, the atmosphere surrounding the team has completely changed. As Ron Rivera noted in his exit press conference back in December, Panthers gear can now (commonly) be found anywhere from grocery bags to license plates to t-shirts and jerseys.

It’s safe to say that Newton and his high-energy self  has been a huge factor in that cultural shift. At just 30 years old, there remains a chance that the star quarterback has at least a few more years of good football and “fun” in the tank. All things considered, bringing Newton back for another year might not only be the right thing to do for this season, but possibly even for seasons to come.

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