Uh-oh! Break out the Bojangles biscuits and the Cookout trays — don’t pass on the milkshake today — because Cam Newton is once again a Panther.
The Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Alexander broke the news in a tweet on Thursday morning that Newton had a meeting with his former team. That soon became an updated report that the 32-year-old QB signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. Newton confirmed the news with a video from his production company.
Take a journey back, way back into time, to nearly two years ago, when Rudy Gobert and Tom Hanks caught COVID and subsequently shut down America. While we all were sanitizing packages and washing our hands until the bones were exposed, the Panthers were making one of the most consequential business decisions they’ve ever made. On March 24, 2020, they released the face of their franchise — not just in his time there, but through their entire 26-year existence. Newton was sidelined with a bad foot for most of 2019, one year after a promising 6-2 start deteriorated into a 7-9 finish as the QB battled aggravated an injury to his throwing shoulder that he’d first suffered in 2016.
Newton had much more to say about his release at the time than a simple message of gratitude for the opportunity to play for the Panthers. He made it known that he felt betrayed. The week prior to his release, the team announced it was granting him permission to seek a trade. Newton made it as clear as he could, while using that eccentric font he enjoys, that the organization wanted him out — he did not want to leave. After the release came his “they looked down on me” Instagram video, and he said months later on Odell Beckham Jr.’s podcast that he’d noticed as far back as 2019, when he was injured, that the Panthers had been treating him differently. He went on to reiterate that he never wanted to leave.
Newton was released again in 2021, this time by the New England Patriots, and now with Panthers starter Sam Darnold on IR — and the team still very much alive in the NFC playoff picture — they’re giving Newton a chance.
It would be poetic for Newton to return and the Panthers to make a run. The NFL could surely use a feel-good story in a season littered with crime, workplace investigations, racially offensive language, and crackpot COVID theories from MVP quarterbacks. Newton can’t remove anywhere near all that tarnish (and it’s not like he didn’t have his own COVID-related baggage before eventually coming around), but it is nice to see a quarterback get to come back to the team he’ll forever be most closely associated with.
Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and likely soon Aaron Rodgers — so many quarterbacks don’t get to make that return unless they’re the opponent, instead only getting that one-day contract when it’s time to retire the number. A great quarterback of an NFL team is the icon of the franchise. He’s the fans’ first thought when that team’s logo pops up on the screen. The Patriots logo will conjure an image of Brady for the rest of time, no matter how successful he is in Tampa, and the same goes for the Panthers’ logo and Newton.
The Panthers might be the best modern success story in the history of professional sports. They advanced to the NFC Championship game in their second season and were a field goal away from winning a Super Bowl in 2003. Still, the franchise had no identity. The player most associated with it was 5-foot-9 wide receiver Steve Smith.
Then came Newton — with the giant smile, the speed, the agility, the cannon, the Heisman, the Camback, the spotty accuracy, and the off-field controversy. He brought it all to Charlotte and the team grew with him, starting with that 422 passing yard debut. Newton was the franchise for better — an MVP award and a Super Bowl appearance — and worse — the mopy press conferences and misogynistic commentary. He grew with them. Newton is their Vince Carter, except now, he gets to return.
Maybe this is the final stop for Newton. Maybe it’s a PR ploy for the Panthers, who hope they can luck into their first playoff appearance since 2017 with a quarterback who hasn’t looked like a star since early 2018. But it’s not like there were any better ideas for the Panthers, so yeah, give me a double burger tray with a corn dog, Cookout fries, and a peanut butter fudge and banana shake. Cam is back in North Carolina.