Cam Newton is officially hurt — again.
And for the short term, the Carolina Panthers may be better off for it.
In the long term, of course, they aren’t. This self-reported re-aggravation of a foot problem for Carolina’s No. 1 quarterback raises all sorts of thorny issues. Newton is 0-8 in his last eight NFL starts and now can’t seem to stay healthy either.
To think the Panthers won’t seriously consider releasing Newton in the spring if things don’t improve between now and December would be naïve. Newton’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season. But the salary-cap hit is not severe if you release him after this year.
What would the Panthers do next? Who knows?
In the short term, though, a healthy Kyle Allen is a better choice for the Sunday game in Arizona than the obviously compromised Newton(the Panthers haven’t declared Newton out, but I will guess that is coming sometime in the next 72 hours).
And surely Allen won’t be worse than Newton has been during Carolina’s 0-2 start. It hasn’t looked like Cam Newton on the field in the opening two games of the 2019 season as much as it has looked like Cam Newton’s ghost — a shadow of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player of 2015, capable occasionally of scaring a defense but mostly just floating around.
Allen is going to throw some interceptions due to inexperience, but he’s also going to make some major-league throws. And he is more capable of running than you might remember.
Allen is nowhere near Cam in his prime. But he’s better than hometown product Will Grier right now and to be honest, it’s quite likely we will never see Cam in his prime again. This week, Allen is the best the Panthers have got — a player who is 1-0 as an NFL starter and who does at least have some experience with these receivers and this offense.
When I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday how ready Allen would be if he has to start for the Panthers for some period of time, Rivera said: “I think Kyle’s more than ready. I think he did some really good things last year. Showed us what he is capable of. He had a good preseason, had a whole bunch of ups, had a few downs, but for the most part he knows the offense. He knows it very well.”
Rivera said that Allen’s biggest strength is his big arm. Where does he need to improve? “I think at times he needs to speed himself up a little bit,” Rivera said.
Arizona will undoubtedly stack the box against Allen, because running back Christian McCaffrey is a proven commodity and Allen isn’t. But that will give Allen some chances on deep balls — remember, he hit Curtis Samuel for a 53-yard touchdown against the Saints in December.
As for the Panthers’ apocalyptic “the sky is falling” crowd: I get it. The team is 0-2. It’s 1-9 over its last 10 games. It looks bad.
But have you looked around the rest of the NFL? What a mess. The Panthers don’t even dent the top 5 of “NFL Teams in Crisis” right now. As for the QBs: Ben Roethlisberger. Drew Brees. Eli Manning. Nick Foles. Quarterbacks all over the league who have won Super Bowls are getting benched due to injury (mostly) or ineffectiveness (Manning).
So some teams are going to figure out how to win some games with very average QB play this year. And the Panthers — still with the best middle linebacker in the league and one of the best 3-4 running backs, too — remain a decent candidate in the suddenly very average NFC South.
This all does bring up the Colin Kaepernick question again — how does that guy still not have a job?
I wrote a month ago the Panthers should bring Kaepernick in if Newton’s foot injury was serious, and of course they didn’t, and of course my mail ran about 90 percent in the “You are crazy” vein. I won’t belabor the point now except to say that I agree with Panthers safety Eric Reid that this is “purely blackballing” due to Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and some of Kaepernick’s other social and political views. He should be working — if not here, somewhere.
If Newton is out for a sustained length of time, I think the Panthers will end up bringing in some veteran quarterback at least as a backup, even though Rivera said Tuesday he didn’t “think” they would. There has been no indication it would be Kaepernick. But if you’re trying to win, I don’t think you keep two young quarterbacks on the roster with one NFL start between them and nobody else. That’d be silly.
Now, it is ironic that when asked late Thursday night about Newton not running the ball on fourth-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 2 in the final minutes of Carolina’s 20-14 loss to the Buccaneers, Rivera growled: “Don’t even worry about the foot. The foot has nothing to do with it.”
A few minutes after that — or maybe it was a few minutes before, because Rivera wasn’t specific — Newton came to Rivera and said his foot was “sore” again.
“He was low about it,” Rivera said. And that makes sense — Newton, now 30 and in his ninth NFL season, has been suffering from either shoulder or foot problems for close to a year now. His play has obviously been affected.
The “How’s Cam?” narrative takes one twist after another, but the overall answer for the past year has usually been: “Not too good.”
Newton wasn’t available to the media Tuesday. Neither was Allen. But after listening to Rivera’s press conferences for nine years, it sounded a whole lot to me like the coach is preparing for Newton to at least sit the Arizona game out. And maybe there will be a lot more games No. 1 will miss after that. Rivera made one reference to having to find out what sort of team the Panthers would be with Allen as the quarterback, which is the sort of hypothetical statement the coach generally steers away from.
Said Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright on Tuesday: “If Cam can go, Cam will go. We’ve seen it last year when he could barely even throw the ball, he was out there putting his body on the line for his team.”
That’s true. Newton has played with pain for years. But there’s no need for that again. It was a mistake to have Newton play against New Orleans at home last year, when he could only throw the ball about 15 yards. In that game, Newton didn’t score a touchdown —rushing or passing. He’s now on a four-game, no-TD streak.
The Panthers’ long-term problems loom, yes. But this season isn’t over. Newton’s re-aggravated injury is problematic in all sorts of down-the-road ways, but in the short term it could be a blessing in disguise.
Let Allen go out there. Let him sling the ball around a little. We might all be surprised at where it lands.