Matt Rhule: A healthy Cam Newton is a special player

NFL: SEP 12 Buccaneers at Panthers
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The Panthers cut Cam Newton 77 days after Matt Rhule arrived as the team’s new head coach. Neither side has hard feelings.

That much became obvious when Newton agreed to terms with the Panthers on Thursday.

Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, gets a second chance in Carolina.

“I know that he’s a competitor, besides his talent,” Rhule said Thursday. “I know he’s a competitor. I know that he’s tough. He’s everything I believe in and talk about. But at the time (of Newton’s release last March), we weren’t sure if he was healthy. Well, he’s healthy now, and you see that he’s healthy now. As he said to me, probably just not playing this season, that he’s as healthy as he possibly could be.

“(The phone conversation) was good. At the end of the day, I think anytime you look back on things, you always say, ‘I wish I had done this differently,’ but everyone has that. There was nothing but good feelings in that conversation. Obviously, he loves Charlotte. He loves the Carolina Panthers. He made that very clear to me. So this is a fitting story.”

Sam Darnold will miss several weeks with a shoulder injury, prompting Rhule to reach out to Newton, who has remained a free agent since the Patriots cut him before the season.

Rhule expects P.J. Walker to start for the team this week against the Cardinals. Matt Barkley, whom the Panthers signed to their active roster off the Titans’ practice squad, will back up Walker.

But Rhule didn’t completely rule out Newton dressing this weekend.

“I don’t ever rule anything out, but we just had our Thursday practice (without Newton participating),” Rhule said. “With any veteran player, they can learn things quickly, so we’re not ruling anything out, but that’s really kind of not where we’re looking right now.”

The Panthers will determine where Newton is physically and see how quickly he can learn the offense before figuring out how quickly he can play in a game. But it’s not likely to be long before Newton takes over the starting job.

Rhule said “this is about his future, and Cam has a lot of good football left.”

If Newton is ready to play in Week 11, Carolina plays the Washington Football Team. Former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, of course, now is Washington’s head coach and did not try to sign Newton when Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured early this season.

“Obviously, we brought Cam because of who he is at quarterback, and we brought him here to play,” Rhule said. “But we’re not looking into the future. We’ve just got to get him here and start teaching him what we do. At the end of day, I talked to Cam. He told me he’s healthy and feels great. This is as healthy as he’s been. A healthy Cam Newton is a special player. So we’ll just take it day by day.”