After six games without their franchise quarterback, the Carolina Panthers have closed Cam Newton’s injury-wracked 2019 season, an announcement that also raises questions about his future with the team.
The team officially placed Newton on injured reserve (IR) Tuesday, effectively leaving only the slimmest chance that the nine-year veteran will return to the field this year. Newton hasn’t played since the Panthers’ Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 12.
Under the NFL’s injured-reserve policy, Newton will miss the rest of the regular season and would only be eligible to return if the Panthers make the playoffs. That the Panthers would play the quarterback after virtually a season-long layoff would seem unlikely at best.
The announcement comes one day after a Panthers’ news conference in which coach Ron Rivera said Newton would continue rehabbing his injured foot, potentially with the hope of returning at some point this season.
The team’s outlook for its best-known player had completely by midday Tuesday. Ultimately, the Lisfranc injury Newton sustained in his left foot proved too much for the quarterback to overcome.
“For the past seven weeks, Cam has diligently followed a program of rest and rehab and still is experiencing pain in his foot,” general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement Tuesday. “He saw two foot specialists last week who agreed that he should continue that path prescribed by the team’s medical staff, and that it likely will take significant time for the injury to fully heal.
“We have said all along that it is impossible to put a timetable on this injury. Nobody is more frustrated with that fact than Cam. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve been around during my 20-plus years in the league. At this time, we have decided that the best decision to reach the goal of bringing the foot back to 100 percent is to place Cam on injured reserve.”
Neither Hurney nor Rivera were made available to answer questions.
Newton initially injured his foot in August during Carolina’s third preseason game against the New England Patriots. But he returned to the field about two weeks later for the team’s season-opener vs. the Los Angeles Rams.
Newton struggled that game and the following week against Tampa Bay, at which point he met with Rivera and Hurney about his health. The group agreed the best solution — both for Newton’s long-term future and for the team in the short-term — was for Newton to let his foot fully heal.
Newton confirmed all this and more in a video blog he released on Sept. 27. In that video, a cigar-smoking, wine-sipping Newton said not only that he had a Lisfranc injury, but also that he couldn’t run in either of Carolina’s first two games.
Known as one of the best running quarterbacks of all time, Newton had a combined five carries for minus-2 rushing yards in those games.
Rivera has maintained throughout the past two months that there was no timeline for Newton’s return, nor would the team rush Newton back prematurely. Second-year backup Kyle Allen has started the last six games in Newton’s place, compiling a 5-1 record during that span, including Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Tennessee Titans.
Friday, Newton flew to Green Bay to meet with renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, formerly an assistant team physician with the Panthers. A league source characterized the meeting as part of Newton’s rehab process.
Rivera said Friday afternoon that he got the sense that Newton, an intense competitor, was frustrated that he wasn’t able to play yet.
The coach also said Sunday that Newton’s visit with Anderson confirmed he and the Panthers medical staff have been doing the right things concerning his rehab. But Rivera didn’t clarify or elaborate when asked if Newton could still end up on IR, or if the meeting with Anderson had taken foot surgery off the table.
Newton has already missed more games this season than in his previous eight seasons combined. He has one year remaining on his contract and will count for about $21 million against the 2020 salary cap.
If the Panthers were to release Newton before next season, they could save $19 million and would only incur $2 million in dead money.