For Cam Newton and Carolina, it’s over. With a whimper.

By John Ellis

Well, it’s over.

As T.S. Eliot once wrote: this is the way it ends, with “a whimper, not with a bang.”

Cameron Jerrell Newton, the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, was released by the Panthers on a cold, bleak, uniquely uncertain Tuesday afternoon in the Carolinas.

We’ve all chronicled the story, but let’s review the bullet points.

  • December 2016: Newton chased down an interception against the San Diego Chargers, and in the process, took a hard hit to his throwing shoulder. This was the first in a series of unfortunate injuries.
  • November 2018: in the pocket, Newton was blindsided by Steelers linebacker TJ Watt, who used the crown of his helmet to spear an already aggravated shoulder. Cam would eventually end up on injured reserve.
  • August 2019: five years after sustaining a substantial injury on the same patch of turf, Newton suffered a foot injury in New England. Again, within the pocket. This led to a Lisfranc diagnosis, and another trip to injured reserve.

The third in this series of brutally unfair events proved to be the proverbial nail in the coffin for Newton’s glorious career in black and blue.

What followed was a disastrous 5-11 season, highlighted by the midseason termination of the only NFL coach Newton has ever known, Ron Rivera. Carolina stayed competitive for much of the year, behind MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey. Eventually, the lack of potency in the red zone cost Carolina several critical games, of which Newton’s unique ability to alter defensive schematics could have proved invaluable.

Several weeks later, Panthers owner David Tepper chose Baylor head coach Matt Rhule to lead Carolina forward. This process also included the retention of long-time general manager Marty Hurney, the man responsible for drafting Newton in 2010.

From that point forward, the battle lines were drawn. There was an abundance of speculation, including from yours truly, because that’s the business we are in. The organization would never truly commit to Newton, a clear signal that his future in Carolina was in jeopardy.

During Super Bowl week, Newton took to the press to make his case. He appeared on several national radio and television outlets for a rare glimpse into his core feelings. The nine-year veteran seized this opportunity to make a crafty case to the public, and presumably his own employer: “I want to be here.”

Newton certainly reclaimed the “upper hand” from a PR perspective. The organization, at every step along the way, worked to provide some clarity. Tepper, who never runs away from a camera, held court with the media at a team function.

“I’m not a doctor,” proclaimed the former hedge-fund savant.

Later in February, at the NFL scouting combine, Rhule aimed to provide some clarity. In doing so, he always stopped short of declaring Newton the starter for 2020.

Last week, the Panthers announced that they were working in partnership with Newton’s representation to find a suitable trade partner. Shortly thereafter, Newton took to Instagram to comment on Carolina’s status update.

Clearly, he was irked by the messaging. It also irked countless fans, who also took their complaints to social media.

What followed? Carolina agreed to terms with Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on a two-year contract.

This move was clearly a key piece to a larger puzzle which didn’t make much sense before, but does make sense now: the team tried to get ahead of the messaging by publicly announcing Newton’s departure, which cleared the way for the Bridgewater signing.

We can relitigate how the front office handled all of this. We can also put to bed the notion that the team’s social media gurus have anything to do with high-level football calculations. 

There was a miniseries. The team produced it. They also went out of their way to highlight some of the dramatics. That’s a judgment call, and I’m not standing in judgment of it. At the time, I know it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. In hindsight, even more so.

That’s the business. It’s a two-way street.

Cam battled injuries. Cam battled a lack of perimeter weapons. Cam battled a national narrative which, at times, was borderline slanderous.

In the end, Cam was left battling his own employer.

Moving forward, it’s an intriguing story to watch. Where will the journey commence for the 2015 NFL MVP?

We don’t know.

What do we know? It’s over in Carolina.

With a whimper. Not a bang.