Why is Cam Newton still unsigned? QB left in tough spot in NFL free agency
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney called Cam Newton’s release “difficult.” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn called Cam Newton “a good quarterback for somebody.” Yet neither of those kinds of sentiments have added up to a new job for one of the NFL’s most accomplished contemporary quarterbacks.
For Newton, going from Carolina’s franchise quarterback to a free agent without a team wanting to sign him yet has been downright frustrating. Speaking with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul in an Instagram Live interview on Monday, Newton explained the feeling of being in “uncharted waters for the first time in my career.”
Newton is two weeks deep in his first foray into NFL free agency after the Panthers officially cut him on March 24. Once thought to have prominent immediate suitors in the quarterback-needy Chargers (minus Philip Rivers) and Patriots (minus Tom Brady), Newton may need to settle for a competitive backup situation at best, despite having franchise starting status since he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
“It’s so much possibility right now for me, but the fact that this corona(virus) situation has hit — I’m not a person to blame or do any of that things (sic), man, it’s business,” Newton said. “But at the same time, I think I have been affected in a lot of ways, and it’s just (unfortunate). But yeah, at the end of the day, man, I’m going to let the ball play how it play, man, and go from there.”
Although Newton has made the most of the “weird” time to get physically and mentally stronger, he admitted how he now carries a “family-size” chip on his shoulder.
So why hasn’t Newton signed? Speaking of the shoulder, you can bet some teams are scared by whether he can return to throwing the ball at a high level ever again. There’s also an equal durability concern about his foot, given that running is such a key component of his game.
Nine years ago, Newton was the rare, pioneering athletic freak at the position, ushering in a much more comfortable era for dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. His immense physical talents proved his doubters wrong, culminating in his 2015 MVP season in which led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.
But the same fearless elements that made Newton a dominant passing and running force at his peak have caught up with him; he has more wear and tear than most quarterbacks his age (he turns 31 on May 11). With all that, there’s a concern whether Newton can reinvent himself into more of a pocket passer. With a raised emphasis on efficiency — the biggest reason why NFL 2019 interception leader Jameis Winston isn’t signed — there’s a worry Newton won’t rate well in a different offense.
There’s another unfair stigma attached to Newton — one Winston also carries. With teams having reservations about simply bridging either quarterback to another starting job, the concern turns to whether they can embrace the mind set of willing backups. It was easier for Marcus Mariota, taken No. 2 overall behind Winston in 2015, to find a second home with the Raiders; his demotion from once-franchise quarterback already came with the Titans.
NFL teams also don’t like wild-card players. It’s hard to compartmentalize Newton for them at the moment, to the point that taking a more controlled chance on a rookie in the draft is a better alternative. The Bears, once a great fit for Newton, chose to stay inside the box with Nick Foles as their contingency for Mitchell Trubisky. For those wanting outside the box, a middle-round pick on Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts has more appeal.
Should a team be comfortable with Newton’s health and be open-minded about him adjusting his game, there’s one more obstacle: There are simply some coaching staffs who aren’t sure whether they can handle Newton’s big personality, and are concerned how he might shake up the dynamic of the team.
It’s hard to believe now that Newton’s talent ceiling hasn’t prompted teams such as the Broncos (Drew Lock) and Jaguars (Gardner Minshew) to consider him to push their second-year quarterbacks. For those teams, however, it could be less about Newton and more about being burned in different ways by going the bridge quarterback route of late.
Newton entered free agency late with a cloud of uncertainty on many levels. He has been put in a tough spot to find the right mutual fit in such a tight window. Unless there’s a key injury for some team, or Newton accepts a deal well under his perceived market value, he likely won’t be signing with anyone anytime soon.
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