In cutting quarterback Cam Newton on Tuesday, eight days after the free-agent market opened, the Panthers were acting fully within their rights. However, that didn’t make it right.
Stephen A. Smith flagged the issue, and he makes a good point. The Panthers squatted on Newton in a failed effort to trade him. In so doing, they ultimately dumped him onto the open market after many teams that were looking for quarterbacks found them.
Of course, there likely weren’t many teams that would have lined up for Newton if he’d been available last Monday. The Bears may have looked into signing him instead of trading for Nick Foles. The Colts possibly would have explored Newton instead of Philip Rivers, but they were looking primarily for a one-year bridge quarterback, not someone who presumably wants a longer-term commitment. The Buccaneers seemed to be hell bent on signing Tom Brady.
The other teams that could have been interested in Cam earlier haven’t added a veteran starter yet: The Chargers, the Patriots, Washington, the Dolphins, and the Raiders (who in theory could/would dump Derek Carr and keep Marcus Mariota as a backup/insurance policy).
Of course, Newton’s availability amid the COVID-19 procedures complicates the process of checking out Newton’s foot, ankle, shoulder, and/or any other banged-up body part via a physical administered by team doctors. But if the Panthers had cut Newton shortly after the waiver period opened in February, he would have had a head start on the market — and a full and fair chance to get a physical.
That’s precisely what the Panthers did with tight end Greg Olsen, releasing him shortly after the Super Bowl and giving him an opportunity to find a new home well before the market opened. So if they did it for Olsen, why didn’t they do it for Newton?
The team would surely say that they held out hope of trading Newton, and that he wasn’t healthy in early February to permit a tentative deal to be done. But the Panthers surely could have gotten a rough feel for what would potentially be available for Newton if he checked out medically. If nothing was available recently, chances are that no one was expressing interest in making a significant offer for Newton.
That said, nothing in the last year of Newton’s contract forced the Panthers to move quickly. Plenty of players have triggers that force the issue early in the league year, like running back Todd Gurley had with the Rams. And the Panthers could have held onto Newton’s rights for even longer, especially since it appears that there will be no offseason program for which he could have shown up and risked an injury that could have made 2020 salary fully guaranteed.
Still, it’s fair to question the Panthers for keeping Newton off the market in the failed hope of getting compensation for him. Given what he’s done for the franchise since arriving in 2011, Newton deserved much better treatment on the way out the door. Especially since Greg Olsen, who arrived that same year, got that much better treatment — and a much fairer chance to land with a new team.