The Carolina Panthers have drastically re-shuffled the deck on their franchise in the past two seasons.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly retired from the NFL after eight monster seasons with the Panthers, inclusive of seven Pro-Bowls and five All-Pro nods.
Longtime head coach Ron Rivera was fired by the franchise during the 2019 season, paving the way for the younger Matt Rhule to take over in 2020.
Finally, Carolina cornerstone Cam Newton was released by the team in March 2020, ushering in a new era under center.
Letting Newton walk was certainly a high-profile decision, and there were arguments to made on both sides.
As we are a full year and change removed from Newton’s release from the Panthers, let’s see whether Carolina was correct in deciding to move on from the former league MVP.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 24, 2020
Carolina Made A Huge Mistake Moving On From Newton
The chances that Newton would ever capture his 2015 NFL MVP status were slim to none, but Carolina didn’t replace him with someone who had that high of a ceiling.
Playing in the uber-competitive NFC South, that was a mistake, considering the firepower their division rivals had.
Teddy Bridgewater is a solid NFL quarterback, but is not the type of player who will put a team on his back and lead them to the postseason.
Carolina just traded for former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who qualifies as a shot in the dark option at the moment.
If Carolina wanted to move on from Newton, and make a blockbuster trade for an established star or big time prospect, fine.
But at present, they’ve ended up with average players at best under center, who are not a sizeable upgrade over Newton.
Additionally, the Panthers’ offense still could have been a dangerous unit with Newton under center.
The former number one overall pick rushed for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns with the New England Patriots last year.
Based on what we saw last season, he still has juice in his legs to be a threat.
Pairing him with Christian McCaffery for one last season would’ve been a fun experiment last year, with defenses unsure of who would take off in the backfield.
McCaffery ended up getting hurt, so this ends up being a moot point, but their offense would have had a dynamic running element to it on paper.
"We have a long way to go but we've made a lot of progress."
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) June 16, 2021
The Panthers Absolutely Made The Right Move Ending The Cam Era
At the end of the day, once organizations turn the page on a quarterback, it’s hard for that player to ever recover.
As much as teammates might respect the guy under center, they can sense when a franchise might decide to pivot and go in a different direction.
The Panthers were quite stoic in their desire to bring Newton back, and that speaks volumes to other players in the locker room.
When you consider that the team hired Rhule, a coach who has no ties or allegiance to Newton, it would have been hard to sell a unified front anyway.
The Panthers also had very legitimate concerns about Newton’s ability to push the ball down the field through the air.
The 2020 season didn’t do anything to dispel those notions, as the quarterback didn’t exactly lead an aerial assault with New England.
In fact, it was just the opposite, as teams dared the Patriots to throw on them, which usually didn’t end well.
Verdict: The Panthers Made a Mistake, But It Wasn’t Egregious
In order for the Panthers to come away looking wise in this situation, Darnold really needs to become the player folks thought he might be out of USC.
If he isn’t, then the Panthers will have spent two seasons with middling players under center, when they could have let Newton try to rehabilitate his value in 2020.
Their concerns about his shoulder were legitimate, but their actions since his release have not backed up their confidence about finding a better option.