Once it became obvious in early November that Philip Rivers wouldn’t be the quarterback of the Chargers in 2020, we identified the two names that should top their wish list: (1) Cam Newton; and (2) Tom Brady.
The Chargers tried to land Brady, who opted to remain on the East Coast. Newton has been available in trade, and as of last week the Chargers (we reported) were debating making a run at the 2015 NFL MVP. Once he’s officially released by the Panthers, the Chargers should run to the front of the line.
When healthy, Newton remains one of the best quarterbacks in football. With teams unable to let their doctors examine his foot, his ankle, his shoulder, and any other body part that may be less than 100 percent, no one was going to send anything of value to the Panthers for a contract that pays out $19.1 million this year — especially when Cam already is making noise about wanting a new deal.
The Chargers need an upgrade over Tyrod Taylor, from a football standpoint and from a business standpoint. They’re opening a new stadium in L.A. with the Rams, one that is destined to contain more fans of the opposing teams than the secondary tenant, if the Chargers don’t start making personnel moves with an eye toward style and sizzle.
Newton has it. Taylor doesn’t. Newton’s attitude already fits with L.A. He’ll generate excitement. He’ll sell tickets. He’ll sell jerseys, becoming the first Chargers player ever worth a crap (apologies to Benny Ricardo) to wear No. 1.
The challenge for the Chargers becomes the timing of a signing, given the delay in getting their doctors a chance to examine him. But since the contracts can be done with the entirety of the compensation hinging on passing a physical, the Chargers could sign Newton now, conduct the physical later, and if for some reason he’s not ready to go, they can stick with Taylor.
The Chargers also could wait to sign Newton, but they’ll be assuming the risk that some other team becomes intrigued by the possibility of adding him to the roster. The Patriots, who are 0-2 against Newton, could become interested. Washington, which is coached by the only coach Newton has ever had in the NFL, could become interested. The Dolphins, who are rolling with Ryan Fitzpatrick and whose head coach witnessed Newton beat the Patriots twice while working there, could become interested.
Barring a non-football injury that ends some other starter’s season, that’s the universe of potential options. But even if there’s one option other than the Chargers, that’s reason enough for the Chargers to move quickly to get Newton under a contract that hinges on Newton eventually passing a physical administered by team doctors.