Through eight games of the 2018 season, Cam Newton’s shoulder looked to be holding up nicely after it was surgically repaired the previous offseason. He had 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, and the Panthers were 6-2 with wins over eventual playoff teams such as the Cowboys, Eagles and Ravens. Talk of a second career MVP award was in the air.
But at some point after that — perhaps after his shoulder got rocked on a hit by the Steelers’ T.J. Watt in a 52-21 loss on Nov. 8 — things took a turn for both Newton and the Panthers. Newton clearly began to struggle throwing the ball much longer than 10 yards downfield, and the Panthers began sending in backup Taylor Heinicke when in need of a Hail Mary. On Dec. 2 against the Bucs, Newton threw four interceptions against a team that was missing both its starting cornerbacks and hadn’t been all that great against the pass when at full health. Fifteen days later against the Saints, he would complete just 16 of 29 passes for 131 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception (the Panthers’ lone touchdown in the loss came on a trick-play pass by running back Christian McCaffrey).
The Panthers, who finished 7-9 after that 6-2 start, deactivated Newton for their next game and he wouldn’t play again in 2018, raising the specter that his shoulder was in bad shape. And on Tuesday, Panthers owner David Tepper did little to assuage those fears by suggesting that the Panthers may shut down Newton for the 2019 season so he can get healthy, a la Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in 2017.
“If you told me he took a year off and could recover and be fully recovered and everything else, and that’s what it took, an extra year, why wouldn’t you do [that]?” Tepper said in a chat with reporters, per ESPN.
“Now we would have to do other things, right? We’d have to go out and get another quarterback. If you could find me some more cap space I’d appreciate that.”
After laboring through the 2016 season because of a shoulder injury originally suffered in 2015, Luck underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder. His recovery was a drawn-out affair that included a trip to see a specialist in Europe, and he sat out the entire 2017 season. But Luck returned this season and had one of the better statistical years of his career, throwing 39 touchdown passes (one off his career high) and compiling a career-best 71.5 QBR in helping lead the Colts back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season.
And if taking a year off worked for Luck . ..
“We’ve got to make sure we have our options open in all ways possible, just in case,” Tepper said. “We’re all hoping everything will be great — and it could be great. Look at Luck this year. Who knows?”
If Newton doesn’t play, the Panthers could draft a quarterback or roll with Heinicke or Kyle Allen, the undrafted rookie who led them to a meaningless Week 17 victory over a Saints team that was resting most of its star players. But they would likely rather sign a veteran quarterback to replace Newton, though Carolina is projected to have just $25 million in salary cap space, putting them in the bottom half of the league, according to ESPN’s David Newton. (The Panthers could free up some room by cutting high-priced veterans, as most teams do.)
“Hopefully, Cam’s shoulder is fantastic, right? And we’re hunky dory, all fantastic,” Tepper said. “If it’s not, you may need more cap space. You may need to go out and find somebody. If you don’t, you guys are going to be writing what a dope we are here. Why did we make these other moves?
“So think about that. You want to keep your options open, put yourself in best position as you can to win, and I’m talking again for the long term.”
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