The Carolina Panthers broke the internet on Thursday afternoon when they announced that quarterback Cam Newton was returning to the franchise on a one-year deal. The Financial terms of the deal are noteworthy, as Newton will reportedly earn up to $10 million for the remainder of this campaign, $4.5 million of which is guaranteed, and $1.5 million in the form of a roster bonus. The shocking reunion came to fruition just days after head coach Matt Rhule announced that starting quarterback Sam Darnold will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a fractured scapula.
Newton now returns to where it all began. The former MVP and three-time Pro Bowler spent the first 11 seasons of his illustrious career in Carolina, and will almost certainly get an opportunity to prove himself worthy of holding onto their starting quarterback job even when Darnold is ready to return to action.
Although Darnold began the new campaign in impressive fashion by helping lead the Panthers to a surprising 3-0 record, the wheels have completely fallen off the bus in recent weeks. Carolina has lost five of their last six contests, and Darnold’s abysmal form has directly contributed to the downfall of their season. The former New York Jet continues to make poor and questionable decisions when under duress. Darnold leads the league in interceptions with 11, 10 of which have dumbfoundedly occurred in his last six appearances. It's no coincidence that Carolina's losing streak began at the moment Darold began turning over the football at an alarmingly high rate.
Carolina simply isn’t built to win games when their starting quarterback is consistently handing the football over to the opposition. A lengthy spell on the sidelines with an injury in his throwing shoulder is also unlikely to allow Darnold to return to the field as a better version of himself in a few weeks’ time. There would certainly be some rust to shake off and that’s a concerning development for a signal-caller that was already playing well below the acceptable expectations.
Newton’s addition also speaks volumes of how general manager Scott Fitterer and Rhule felt about the other quarterbacks on their roster. Backup quarterback P.J. Walker was initially expected to serve as the starter in Darnold's absence, but the former XFL standout failed to impress while receiving ample playing time in a Week 7 loss to the New York Giants, completing just 3-of-14 passes. Veteran journeyman Matt Barkley was also recently added to the fold, but will now seemingly serve as Carolina's third quarterback.
The 32-year-old Newton still has some quality football left in the tank, as proven by some of his noteworthy performances as a member of the New England Patriots in 2020. Newton totaled 20 touchdowns a year ago (eight passing, 12 rushing), and was playing at a high level before struggling throughout the second half of the season.
This represents a groundbreaking and unique situation that will see Newton play for a head coach in Rhule that was part of the regime that initially released him in the first place back in March of 2020. Carolina has ultimately made a smart decision here and Newton should get every opportunity to make Carolina’s starting job his own. The financial terms of his deal, paired with Darnold’s abysmal play in recent weeks, suggest he’ll get a fair chance to do so.