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Sport Opinion: Panthers QB Cam Newton's NFL career could be at a crossroads

05:30  06 november  2019
05:30  06 november  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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Opinion : Panthers QB Cam Newton ' s NFL career could be at a crossroads . The Bears might project as the best fit for Newton , pre-packaged with a defense that can be airtight with a little support from the offense and a coach who could probably engineer a more versatile and unpredictable attack

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Cam Newton won't get the chance to finish his ninth NFL season on the field.

Cam Newton wearing a hat: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) stands on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium.© Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) stands on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium.

The 2015 league MVP didn't get the chance to properly finish his eighth season, either.

And with the Carolina Panthers star landing on injured reserve Tuesday with a Lisfranc injury, the next question is pretty obvious: How will a 10th season unfold for the former No. 1 overall pick?

Both Newton and the Panthers are in dicey spots. Especially Newton.

Carolina's season has been resurrected in part by undrafted backup Kyle Allen, who has won six of his seven pro starts dating to last season, when he first filled in for Newton — who, incidentally, has been on the losing end of his last eight appearances and has generally appeared to be a shell of himself, his passer rating never creeping above 72.1 in his five most recent starts.

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Opinion : Panthers QB Cam Newton ' s NFL career could be at a crossroads . It' s not like the Panthers really need Newton to sell tickets anymore. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton passes during an NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Sept.

Panthers QB Newton out Sunday at Cardinals, Allen to start. In a move that was becoming increasingly clear to everyone closely watching the Carolina Panthers , quarterback Cam Newton will miss Week 3’ s game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, it was announced Friday.

It's not like the Panthers really need Newton to sell tickets anymore. They're a half-game out of the NFC's second wild card spot. Running back Christian McCaffrey has blossomed into an MVP front runner and face of the franchise, while Luke Kuechly still provides star power on the defensive side.

And given Allen is winning, playing the position more efficiently than Newton, is seven years younger than the veteran and can be had for a fraction of Cam's $18.6 million base salary in 2020 — Allen will be an exclusive rights free agent next year, the final season of the $104 million extension Newton signed in 2015 — the writing surely appears to be on the wall.

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So let's assume, for the purposes of this exercise, that the Panthers "Keep Pounding" into the future with Allen — with the additional cap space that would entail to continue buttressing the roster. Where then would that leave Newton?

Almost certainly not in a very enviable position.

How many teams will be knocking down the door of a player who will be 31 next season, has had two shoulder surgeries since 2017 and now seems to have a bad wheel potentially limiting what used to be a 12-cylinder game? And it's not like there are many clubs that might only be a quarterback away from glory, assuming Newton isn't really interested in being part of a rebuild — to the degree any GM would want a player who may be in steep decline as the centerpiece of an overhaul.

So ... maybe ... Titans? Broncos? Redskins? Bears? Buccaneers? Maybe? Maaaaaybe?

Tennessee and Tampa Bay are both likely to have openings under center next season with the contracts of Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston all set to expire. But are the Panthers really going to deal with the division rival Bucs? And what could they realistically expect in return, anyway, for a player who might be damaged goods?

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Cam Newton won’t be returning to the Panthers ’ lineup anytime soon, if ever. Carolina put its starting quarterback on injured reserve in advance That decision puts a middling franchise at a crossroad . Newton , the 2015 NFL MVP, has only one year and no guaranteed money remaining on his contract.

Denver and Washington both just spent high picks on passers in this year's draft and would be dealing from even more fortified positions of strength — though each organization seems to throw resources annually at what's apparently an unsolvable position, so who knows?

The Bears might project as the best fit for Newton, pre-packaged with a defense that can be airtight with a little support from the offense and a coach who could probably engineer a more versatile and unpredictable attack if armed with a more capable triggerman than Mitchell Trubisky. And Chicago GM Ryan Pace isn't afraid of pulling the trigger himself on a big deal ... unfortunately, he's still working off his Khalil Mack debt and can't offer more than second-round compensation in 2020 — though that might be enough in the Newton scenario.

But I mentioned Newton is 31. It's a number the Bears or any other future employer of Newton's would have to carefully consider.

Cam once resembled Superman, a character he loves to emulate every time he reaches the end zone. But Newton's 31 feels much closer to — probably even older than — 41 as worn by age-defiant quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. As a draft prospect in 2011, Newton's 6-5, 245-pound frame made him seem invincible. But the NFL inevitably serves as kryptonite to all players — most certainly ones who leave the pocket with abandon, willingly take on linebackers in the open field and routinely subject themselves to the punishment that comes from defenses expecting a quarterback sneak at the goal line or on fourth-and-short.

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And the fate of Newton, as was the case to some degree with Michael Vick, could end up as a cautionary tale to players like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and others (watch that Russell Wilson game film, fellas). Vick's body started breaking down when he was roughly the age Newton is now. At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Vick wasn't built to withstand a ton of punishment, yet he never truly developed into a player who could consistently win from the pocket when defenders no longer had to honor his electric legs.

Newton has probably taken more direct hits than Vick over the years, and it's worth wondering if his Greek god physique served him any better. A 245-pound target is also an inviting one that's hard to miss, and there's no rolling back the odometer no matter how big and bad you are. Ask Rob Gronkowski. Ask Calvin Johnson. Ask Jerome Bettis.

And, like Vick before him, it's worth wondering what kind of offense Newton can effectively operate going forward. The lasting image of his 2019 season might be his final play, when the Tampa Bay defense snuffed out a fourth-and-goal gimmick that resembled the "Philly Special" — but the Bucs didn't seem very worried about Newton, dumping McCaffrey, who took a direct snap, for no gain on a sequence that never had a chance and left the Panthers 0-2.

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And if Newton can't remotely run how he once did?

Is a Sean McVay acolyte going to ask a man whose career completion rate is 59.6% to orchestrate that type of attack? And sure, Newton appeared to be making strides as a passer in 2018 under coordinator Norv Turner before his shoulder gave out, but his numbers got a boost from a plethora of dump-offs to McCaffrey, who was on the way to catching more balls (107) than any back ever had in a season. How many other rosters out there offer a McCaffrey-like safety valve?

Cam Newton has been one of the most effective, dynamic, breathtaking and dangerous dual threat players the NFL has ever seen in its 100 seasons. But unless he's able to both recover and reinvent himself in short order, it sure appears that it's his career which is in serious danger.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Panthers QB Cam Newton's NFL career could be at a crossroads

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