INDIANAPOLIS – Scratch Cam Newton’s name from the game of musical quarterback chairs that is poised to define the NFL’s offseason.
The Carolina Panthers don't appear ready to move on from Newton, at least not now.
In speaking with media Tuesday during the NFL scouting combine, new Panthers coach Matt Rhule stopped short of declaring the former MVP as his starting quarterback but was clear enough about what he hopes will take place, so long as Newton fully recovers from the foot injury that derailed his 2019 season.
“I’ll just say that I really want him on the team and I really want him to be healthy,” Rhule said. “I know when Cam’s healthy, who he is and the type of player that he is. …When Cam’s healthy, he’s one of the best of the best.”
Rhule, who jumped to the NFL after serving the past three years as Baylor's coach, suggested that his working relationship with Newton is off to a good start. Although NFL rules prohibit coaches and player from discussing football matters (such as the playbook) at this point in the offseason, the two have had discussions in Rhule’s office and in the cafeteria when Newton has been at the team’s headquarters while rehabbing his Lisfranc injury.
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Newton, 30, has been working in Charlotte and in his hometown, Atlanta. Rhule said that there’s no definitive timeline for Newton to get back onto the field.
“The timeline is going to depend on how his body responds to the treatment,” Rhule said. “We need to get him cleared, but after that we need to have a real disciplined, return-to-play program so that when he comes back, he comes back full-speed.
"You know, we haven’t really seen a healthy Cam for two years. We need to make sure we do our job and get him healthy. I really don’t care if he’s not full-speed until September. Now, I’m sure on his end, he’ll say, 'I’ll be there before,' but we have to make sure that we bring him back slowly.”
With Newton heading into the final year of his contract and the Panthers rebuilding with a new coach, speculation about the quarterback’s future has intensified. Rhule wouldn’t specifically address whether the team would entertain trade offers for Newton but said that he is philosophically open to whatever moves could improve the team. He also wouldn’t rule out drafting a quarterback; the Panthers have the No. 7 pick in the first round.
Newton’s wear and tear would be another key factor to consider for the Panthers. Newton is due $21.1 million in 2020 in salary and bonuses – a bargain price for top-shelf starting quarterbacks – and would cost considerably more to keep with a long-term deal. In the highly unlikely event the Panthers released Newton this year, the cap hit would be just $2 million, according to overthecap.com.
“The only thing that really matters now is getting him healthy,” Rhule said. “But I want to make sure I say I’m excited to have him here. I want him to be here. I want to coach him.”
Rhule knows that the questions about Cam will persist. And that starts at home.
The rookie coach added, “My son keeps asking.”
At least for now, Rhule can maintain that he’s saved a seat for Newton.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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