A familiar smiling face will be back on the sidelines for Carolina on Sunday.
Cam Newton, the franchise’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and the 2015 NFL MVP, is officially back in the black and blue. The Panthers signed their quarterback to a one-year deal on Thursday, setting him up to take over quarterback duties for the remainder of the season.
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Newton has tried to get back into the league after leaving the Patriots before the start of the season, even getting the COVID-19 vaccine to make himself more marketable to teams that may have a quarterback need. His interests finally aligned with another team’s when Carolina saw a sudden, glaring need for a proven veteran quarterback.
That it just so happened to be the franchise’s top signal-caller of all time was a coincidence. Newton left the Panthers after a nine-year career in Carolina, completing 59.6 percent of his passes for 29,041 yards and 182 touchdowns to 108 interceptions. He also added 934 rushes for 4,806 yards and 58 touchdowns.
The most pressing question now becomes whether Newton, who hasn’t taken a snap since preseason, will be able to suit up against Arizona, let alone start. Sporting News breaks down whether Newton will be able to take the field on Sunday vs. the Cardinals:
Is Cam Newton playing today?
Newton is expected to be active, according to Ian Rapoport, though coach Matt Rhule said it’s not likely Newton plays vs. the Cardinals on Sunday.
“I would say probably not very likely,” Rhule said Friday about Newton’s availability. “Today was just a walkthrough. Cam’s just getting started with us so we’ll probably, more realistic to shoot for next week. We’re running our offense and Cam’s going to come in and do what we do, but right now we’re just focused on this game … we’re not looking ahead to anything right now.”
The Panthers signed Newton to a one-year deal on Thursday, giving him only two days of practice to get ready for the Cardinals. Friday was a walkthrough, and Saturday was slightly more intense. That said, it’s not enough time for Newton to get acclimated to playing in Rhule and Joe Brady’s offense.
NFL.com reports Newton, if active, could play in a small package of plays. Newton is not listed on the team’s depth chart as of Sunday: P.J. Walker is listed as the starter, with Matt Barkley as the backup.
MORE: Why the Cam Newton-Panthers reunion is a bad idea for Carolina
Why did Panthers sign Cam Newton?
The Panther signed Cam Newton out of necessity after starting quarterback Sam Darnold was listed out for the foreseeable future with a fractured right shoulder blade. The quarterback reportedly suffered the injury in a win vs. the Falcons, but played through it the following week in a loss to the Patriots. It’s uncertain if the injury was exacerbated by playing against New England or if the team simply became aware of it following the loss.
Carolina listed Darnold out for 4-6 weeks but, according to a report from ESPN, is operating as if Darnold is out for the year. Once the team determined Darnold was essentially out indefinitely, it identified Newton as the best quarterback to lead a playoff run. The Panthers are 4-5 through nine weeks of play and currently in last place in the NFC South behind the Buccaneers (6-2), Saints (5-3) and Falcons (4-4).
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Newton could potentially earn the right to challenge for the Panthers’ starting role in 2022:
“But more importantly, Newton will have a chance to cement his status as Carolina’s starter for the remainder of this year and potentially the 2022 season as well, sources told ESPN. If Newton plays well this season, he would become the favorite to be Carolina’s starting quarterback in 2022.”
MORE: Cam Newton contract details: How much is Panthers QB making in 2021?
How much did Cam Newton sign for?
Newton reportedly signed to a one-year, $10 million contract — a deal that simultaneously recognizes Newton’s value to the team in the short term while still prioritizing Darnold in 2022 and beyond. According to a report from Ian Rapoport, Newton’s contract is structured to give him $6 million in guaranteed money — $4.5 million fully guaranteed and a $1.5 million roster bonus. Schefter reports he also has playoff-heavy incentives built into his contract.
Newton stands to make $500,000 for each playoff win in which he plays at least 50 percent of the game; $1.5 million if Carolina reaches the Super Bowl and he plays 50 percent of the offensive snaps; and a $1 million bonus if selected the Super Bowl MVP.