With Cam Newton ‘highly unlikely’ to return to Panthers, Broncos should give him a serious look

Cam Newton. Credit: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports.
Cam Newton. Credit: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports.

A veteran quarterback, a former NFL MVP and a dynamic talent; remember the last time the Denver Broncos signed such a player?

OK, the mere fact that Peyton Manning and Cam Newton were league MVPs and both played quarterback is where the comparisons end. Manning revolutionized the quarterback position in the NFL by being the most cerebral player we’ve ever seen. Before Manning, audibles at the line of scrimmage were a rarity; “The Sheriff” used his big brain to outsmart defenses game-in, game-out. And when he hung up his spurs, Manning rode off into the sunset the winner of Super Bowl 50, over Cam Newton.

But, let’s not slight what Newton has been able to do. He, too, has revolutionized the NFL quarterback position. At least, he did in his heyday, which seems like a long time ago.

Back in that same Super Bowl 50 year, 2015, Newton was nearly unstoppable. He ran up 45 total touchdowns, 35 of them through the air and he scored 10 times on the ground, along with 600-plus rushing yards that year. On top of all that, Cam led his Panthers to four game-winning drives — most in the NFL — on the way to their superb 15-1 season.

But since then — when Von Miller owned him — it’s been less than pretty.

Newton’s passing numbers took a hit in 2016 and dropped even further in 2017, with only 3,300 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to a way too many 16 interceptions. However, he’s still been a mostly dynamic runner, able to take off and gash defenses for big gains at will, tallying at least four touchdowns per season his entire career.

That is, until this year.

Ian Rappoport reported today Newton is “highly unlikely” to return to the Panthers, and that’s due to two things: His contract and his health, or lack thereof.

Last season, the superstar had to sit out the last two games of the regular season due to a shoulder injury which required surgery in the offseason to repair it. This year, he sprained his mid-foot in the preseason and after playing two games — with terrible numbers — he sat and was eventually placed on Injured Reserve. The lingering foot injury is unsettling because before this year, Newton had missed only three games in his career, and the quarterback partially makes his living off running the football.

As for his contract, Newton was a $23 million cap hit this year and is set to be a $21 million hit for the Panthers in 2020, the last year of his current deal. Being that it’s his last year, there aren’t the astronomical signing bonuses ($4.5 million) as there were the previous five years, meaning he’s easier to cut. The move would save Carolina nearly $19 million towards the salary cap next year as there would be a $2 million dead cap hit according to spotrac.com.

For the Broncos, paying out big-time salaries for a quarterback isn’t an issue. Look at Joe Flacco’s average salary of $23 million they were willing to spend to get a mere eight games out of the veteran.

Of course, in the long-term, signing retread quarterbacks isn’t the best option. Case Keenum and Flacco worked out just about as well as one would suspect; they were each pedestrian-at-best.

But, signing Newton — if the price is right, and it should be when he’s cut — could mean a few-year run of competitiveness in Denver.

Or, the Broncos could go after a younger and better passer in Teddy Bridgewater (I’d take the latter). Teddy could certainly be a “bridge over troubled water” in terms of quarterback play, bringing stability and his locker room presence is an overall positive.

Cam’s…isn’t. Or, at least, there have been varied reports in terms of how well he gets along with teammates while stealing the limelight.

But, where the Broncos’ quarterback room currently sits isn’t acceptable and it’s not going to win them enough games to make the playoffs any time soon. Flacco’s on the IR, Brandon Allen enjoyed his first win in his first start — and there’s some hope surrounding that play — while Drew Lock has been on IR all year and still won’t be allowed to even practice.

Unless Allen turns out to be a surprise stud, or and even if Lock plays well in December, the Broncos future at the quarterback position is as murky as it was the day Manning retired. Denver will likely have to draft yet another QB in 2020; that same strategy has been used six-of-nine years John Elway has been in charge of the team.

The way Elway’s won, the only way, was by signing Manning in the twilight of his career. Maybe it’s time he does it again, this time, with Newton (or Bridgewater).

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