The Panthers’ promising 2018 season imploded, with the most noticeable sign being a Thursday night thrashing in Pittsburgh (which sparked a campaign-killing string of losses) and the more subtle evidence coming from the chronic inability of quarterback Cam Newton to throw the ball down the field, given a shoulder problem that eventually resulted in offseason surgery.
The Panthers privately and publicly exude optimism that the removal of scar tissue has unlocked the shoulder and solved the problem. At the same time, the Panthers and Newton have come up with a funky new throwing motion, which has Cam pulling the ball over the top of his shoulder, almost pressing it up against his head.
Others have successfully tweaked their mechanics in the past, but it’s not easy. Thousands of reps are needed to retrain muscle memory, and there’s still a chance that, once Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald starts chasing Newton around during Week One of the 2019 regular season, Newton will instinctively revert to his old ways.
His old ways weren’t bad ways. He threw the ball well enough to become the league’s MVP in 2015. But now that he’s 30, change becomes necessary to extending his career, given the various shoulder issues he’s had.
Of course, Newton said on the eve of his latest birthday that he’s too old to change his playing style. As he now changes one of the most important aspects of a quarterback’s playing style. If it works, and if he remains healthy, the Panthers could turn the clock back four years, tear up a division that is at best in transition, and potentially twist the road to Miami through Charlotte. If it doesn’t work, the Panthers may start thinking about life after Cam — and they may consider setting the clock forward to their post-Newton existence.
However it goes, it feels like 2019 will either secure Newton’s future in Charlotte or hasten its conclusion, especially since he’s currently averaging $20.7 million per year — far less than the top of the market — with two years left on his contract.