CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers believe quarterback Cam Newton‘s right shoulder that was scoped last month will be healed in time for him to start the season. Newton says on his new YouTube channel that critics suggesting they’ve seen “the best of Cam Newton” will make him more dangerous than ever.
But there are no guarantees.
Remember, Newton was considered as healthy as he’s been in years entering last season, and after six games began experiencing soreness in the shoulder that originally was repaired surgically prior to the 2017 season. He was so ineffective down the stretch, admitting he couldn’t throw more than 30 yards, that the Panthers shut him down for the final two games.
So while everything appears to be trending positive for the 2015 NFL MVP, the Panthers have to be prepared for any what-ifs.
Finding a veteran quarterback who can take reps during the offseason while Newton is rehabbing and potentially be available should there be a setback would be a good insurance policy.
The only other quarterback under contract is Kyle Allen, a second-year, undrafted player who started the 2018 finale against New Orleans and helped the Panthers end a seven-game losing streak. Though Allen looked good against the Saints, completing 16 of 27 pass attempts for 228 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter, he’s still a project.
Taylor Heinicke, who started in Week 16, is a free agent with potential. But he’s coming off surgery to repair a torn triceps and also is somewhat of a project even though he has experience in Norv Turner’s offense.
The Panthers likely will use a draft pick on a quarterback in an attempt to find a long-term replacement for Newton, who turns 30 in May.
But what they don’t have is an experienced player — like they once had in Derek Anderson (2011-17) — a player they are confident can step in and win if Newton isn’t available.
This year’s free agent quarterback class isn’t great outside the top couple of candidates, and they are looking for starting jobs at a high price tag.
Here’s what the Panthers likely are looking at:
Nick Foles, 30, Philadelphia: The Super Bowl MVP following the 2017 season paid the Eagles $2 million to void his 2019 option year. He’ll either become a free agent or Philadelphia will franchise and trade him to a team looking for a starter. The Panthers aren’t looking for a starter.
Teddy Bridgewater, 27, New Orleans: He would be ideal since he played under Turner at Minnesota. The two were 11-5 together in 2015. But Bridgewater wants to be the starter and the Saints likely will do what they can to keep him as Drew Brees‘ long-term replacement. Or Bridewater will go to another team needing a starter.
Worth kicking the tires
Tyrod Taylor, 30, Cleveland: He’s 23-21 as a starter, including 8-6 with Buffalo in 2017. An injury in Week 3 and then the emergence of Baker Mayfield cost him the starting job with the Browns this past season, but there’s enough upside that he could be the kind of security blanket the Panthers seek.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 36, Tampa Bay: He’s a lot like Derek Anderson in that he is an older veteran who still can win. He played well enough at Tampa Bay last season that he earned the nickname “FitzMagic.” He threw four touchdown passes in a 42-28 loss at Carolina in October. Probably a reach for the Panthers because of his age.
Brock Osweiler, 28, Miami: He is 15-15 as a starter, including 8-6 at Houston in 2016. A former second-round pick out of Arizona State, he’s still young. He showed potential for the Broncos in 2015 when he replaced an injured Peyton Manning during the season the Broncos beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Trevor Siemian, 27, Minnesota: He also was a backup for the Broncos team that beat Carolina in Super Bowl 50. He’s 13-11 as a starter with 30 touchdowns to 24 interceptions. He didn’t play a down with Minnesota last season after being traded to the Vikings, but he’s young enough to develop and experienced enough to win now.
Mark Sanchez, 32, Washington: He’s 37-36 as a starter and led the New York Jets to two AFC title games. He’s at a point in his career when he likely would settle for a backup role. Accuracy has been an issue. He has a career 56.6 completion percentage. But Newton had a career percentage of 58.5 before Turner got him to 67.9 this past season.
No thank you
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Matt Cassell, 36, Detroit: He has the experience with 73 starts. He has postseason experience with one start for Kansas City in 2010 when he was 10-5 during the regular season. But he’s started only two games the past three seasons and was 1-6 as a starter at Dallas in 2015.
Robert Griffin III, 29, Baltimore: ESPN actually had him rated higher than Newton after the 2012 season in which Griffin led Washington to the playoffs as a rookie. He hasn’t been the same since then because of knee and ankle injuries.
Geno Smith, 28, N.Y. Giants: He’s still young and has 31 starts, but only 12 of those were wins and he’s thrown 36 picks to 29 touchdowns.
Joe Webb, 32, Houston: He was with the Panthers from 2014-16 but played mostly wide receiver and special teams. He’s completed only two passes in the past seven seasons.
Brandon Weeden, 35, Houston: A former first-round pick by Cleveland (2012) who has five wins in 21 starts.
Josh McCown, 39, N.Y. Jets: He’ll be 40 in July and has a career-record of 23-53.
Colin Kaepernick, 31: He is intriguing. The Panthers gambled last season on safety Eric Reid, who like Kaepernick has a collusion grievance against the NFL because teams wouldn’t sign them after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest social injustice. Reid paid off, enough so that the Panthers would like to re-sign him. While signing Kaepernick would cause quite a stir and would be a distraction at first, the experience with Reid shows owner David Tepper is willing to take chances. Kaepernick was 28-30 as a starter, 5-2 in helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl in 2012 and 12-4 with a trip to the NFC title game in 2013. If Carolina re-signs Reid, Kaepernick at least would have a strong ally.
Keeping options open
Former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (Ravens) and Ryan Tanehill (Miami) could be released or traded at some point. Flacco, 34, likely is looking for a place to start. He’s started all 163 games in which he’s played since 2008. Tanehill, 30, has 42 wins and has completed 62.8 percent of his passes. If there is any doubt Newton might not be ready, they would be potential win-now options when surrounded by a solid supporting cast, and the Panthers have that with Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Greg Olsen.