The Carolina Panthers are facing a critical decision this offseason. The future of the organization falls at the feet of general manager Marty Hurney and owner Dave Tepper -- no we aren't talking about the ultimate decision regarding head coach Ron Rivera's job security, either. We're talking about whatever the team chooses to do with franchise quarterback Cam Newton, who has served as the Panthers' signal caller since 2011 -- when the Panthers made him the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Since the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance, won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, led the Panthers to a 68-55-1 record and accounted for an average of 30 touchdowns and 4,230 yards of offense per season in his 8 full seasons as "the guy" in Carolina.
But Newton might no longer be "the guy". Instead Carolina is facing the prospect of closing up shop on the Cam Newton experience and moving on with someone else under center -- for a number of reasons. Quarterback Kyle Allen currently runs the Panthers offense and, despite his inexperience, has won 5 of his 7 starts with Carolina thus far in 2019. But it isn't the play of Allen that has Carolina inspired by the potential of moving on from Newton so much as it is his own physical restrictions as he enters a new decade of life as a 30-year old quarterback. Newton has been dogged with throwing shoulder issues and a foot injury that has ultimately led to his placement on the injured reserve list for the rest of the 2019 regular season.
Newton thrives as a player courtesy of athletic ability, raw power, mobility and natural arm talent -- and his recent health struggles robbed him of all of those qualities when we saw Newton for 2 games earlier this year. 2020 will be the final year of Newton's current contract, a 5-year, $103.8M mega-contract from 2015. With Carolina finding success on the field without their signature star of this decade, of course the question has popped up:
Well, what if we trade him before we lose him for good?
Carolina, of course, would have to elect not to pursue retaining Newton, but with the team finding success this season in the win column, the evidence isn't helping Cam's cause as an irreplaceable asset -- even if he is more talented than Kyle Allen or any other bidder for the starting job in Charlotte.
There's already a hypothetical suitor in line for Newton, too. The Chicago Bears, who have seen their 2017 investment in #2 overall Mitchell Trubisky implode this season before their very eyes, would make a lot of sense for Newton as a landing spot. The rest of the Bears' roster is in "win now" mode, the team is potentially a quarterback away from competing for a deep playoff run and Newton will have had effectively 11 months of recovery and rest for his throwing shoulder before the start of the 2020 NFL season. And early reports indicate a move to a team like Chicago is one Newton would welcome. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport spoke recently on the potential of a Newton deal to Chicago:
"The likely scenario is Cam Newton is playing for a different team next offseason and here's why -- he's due $19M in salary and none of it is guaranteed. He is a franchise quarterback who is intent on being healthy for March. That means he's very tradeable, similar to Joe Flacco, a play by the way like Chicago if they're in the market for a quarterback. From my understanding, Cam Newton would in fact welcome that if it all worked out."
So with that in mind, let's talk business. What would a trade for Cam Newton look like this offseason? With Newton entering a contract year worth $19M in payroll, that isn't an easy answer. But it is one we're going to work through together in order to find sensible compensation for the 2015 NFL MVP.
If I'm Panthers GM Marty Hurney, your phone call better start with an overly gracious salutation and the first asset out of your mouth better be a 1st-round pick...and then what else do you want to offer? My basis of that standard? Three trades: the trade of Sam Bradford from Philadelphia to Minnesota in 2016 (which netted Philly a 1st and a conditional 4th-round pick), the trade of Jay Cutler from Denver to Chicago in 2009 (which netted Denver a two 1sts, a 3rd and QB Kyle Orton) and the trade of Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland in 2011 (for a 1st and 2nd-round pick).
And I'm expecting counter-negotiations to circle back to two things: Cam Newton is 30-years old with multiple injuries in recent years and the fact that he's entering a contract season in 2020. But this isn't a Joe Flacco situation by any means. Flacco was flipped to Denver this past offseason for a 4th round draft selection -- but he was assuredly washed at the ripe old age of 34 years old. Newton was playing MVP caliber football as recently as the first half of the 2018 season...plus he's always been a more dynamic player and talent than Flacco. Perceived starting caliber quarterbacks in the NFL have a defined cost: a 1st-round pick. Bradford was 29 and injury prone (he missed 27 games in the 3 years) before he was traded to Minnesota. Carson Palmer was ready to retire in 2011 before he was flipped for a 1st and 2nd round pick -- at the age of 32.
And if I'm Carolina, I know one thing about the Bears: they'll be desperate. The team's bet on Mitchell Trubisky has gone up in flames so spectacularly that this team is going to be more than willing to part with short-term assets in order to plug in an upgrade at quarterback and try to unleash their full potential while so much of the team's core is young.
There's just one problem with this potential trade: the Chicago Bears already don't own a 2020 1st-round pick.
Chicago's 2020 1st-round pick belongs to the Oakland (Las Vegas?) Raiders -- traded as a part of the Khalil Mack deal ahead of the 2018 season. That will make a deal infinitely more complicated.
So again, pretending I'm Marty Hurney, I make my expectations to Chicago very clear: you're getting a 30-year old former MVP winner who will have had ample time to heal and rest his body. I expect 1st-round return and then some. I understand you don't have a 1st-round pick this offseason, but that's not my problem. Go ahead and make my day, Ryan Pace!
My hope is that a negotiation for Cam nets multiple picks in multiple years. Chicago is, at 4-5, going to own picks in the middle of each round. If Carolina can tempt me with the following package of picks, I'm doing the deal and moving on from Cam this offseason:
- 2020 2nd round pick
- 2021 conditional draft selection (3rd - 2nd - 1st round stipulations)
My thought process on this trade package is clear. I'm incentivized up front to land a top-50 draft selection for this upcoming offseason. And by my potential big payout coming in 2021, it gives me a year to evaluate Kyle Allen as the team's quarterback -- and if I don't like what I see, I have more big ticket draft picks at my disposal to ensure I can be aggressive in the draft to target the quarterback of my choosing to be the heir to Newton if it is indeed not Kyle Allen.
My stipulations for the 2021 conditional pick Chicago sends back are quite simple:
-- Chicago sends back a 2021 3rd-round pick if Cam Newton starts less than 10 games in 2020 and fails to resign with the Bears when his current contract expires
-- Chicago sends back a 2021 2nd-round pick if Cam Newton starts 10+ games in 2020 and fails to resign with the Bears when his current contract expires
-- Chicago sends back a 2021 1st-round pick if Cam Newton signs a second contract in Chicago to play beyond the 2020 season, regardless of how many games he starts in 2020
If Chicago sees enough in Newton to extend him beyond the final year of his contract, the exchange of a starting quarterback has taken place and I, as Carolina, get my 1st-round plus more value that's been the standard in the past decade for quarterbacks not names Joe Flacco (Bradford, Palmer and Cutler). And if Newton plays just one season in Chicago, I still get approximately 400 points on the trade value chart for a pick that falls right around 50th overall (which Chicago should be higher than in 2019). And if Chicago won the Super Bowl in 2020 and let Newton walk after the year, I (as Carolina) am still owed the 96th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is worth approximately 116 points on the trade value chart. The combined exchange of picks totaling 516 points as a worst case scenario? That'd be valued as the 38th overall pick in the Draft -- meaning I flipped one year of Cam Newton to Chicago for the value of an early 2nd-round draft selection -- all while leaving myself wiggle room based on someone else making the critical decisions regarding Newton's future to get an even greater return on the deal.
It's going to be a fun couple of months to monitor Newton's status in Carolina, mainly because he has a lot to offer the right team when healthy -- but given his health, age and contract status, Newton is a fascinating study in player valuation...especially with one of the front runners missing a 1st-round pick in 2020 already. I gave the trade value my best shot -- perhaps we'll see just how close the real thing comes to it this winter.