7 KEY QUESTIONS THAT WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME OF THE 2020-21 SEASON PART 3

BY ADAM GREENE

Last season was a disaster for both Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers compounded it by firing Ron Rivera before season’s end then cutting Newton in the offseason, starting all over with Matt Rhule as their head coach and Teddy Bridgewater at QB.

It was a team two years away from an 11-5 Wild Card Campaign and four years removed from a 15-1 NFC Championship and Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. The questions surrounding the team in the preseason were all about Newton. Was his surgically-repaired right shoulder, injured after a 6-2 start in 2018, OK? Would he continue to benefit from offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s NFL-level playcalling and design?

We never got to find out the answer to either. Newton injured his foot in a preseason game, left in to play meaningless snaps by Rivera, a mistake that ultimately cost him his job, Newton’s job, and ruined the Panthers franchise for maybe the next half-decade.

Rivera got out OK, signing on to be head coach of the nameless Washington Football Team. Newton, too, is back, signing for a far-too-cheap deal to play for the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick.

But now the question returns, not just for Newton’s shoulder, but his foot.

3. Is Cam Newton 100 percent healthy?

The reason Newton sat on the free agent heap, an undisputed franchise quarterback there for the taking, was his injury history. The ongoing global COVID-19 forced the NFL to shut down scouting travel. There would be no face-to-face meetings, no poking and prodding at the hands of team doctors. Newton said he wanted to play. He was angry at Carolina’s attitude toward him, that they gave up on him. He has, only now, been viewed by New England’s staff and we don’t know, as of this writing, their assessment of his health.

When he signed with the Patriots at a contract that is, honestly, insulting on its face, he let them (and the NFL) know that he was embarking on a revenge tour.

“You’re getting a dog,” Newton told Odell Beckham Jr. and Todd Gurley in a Youtube video. “You’re getting of these ticked-off dogs too. And I’m looking at the schedule and I’m like, ‘Who we’re playing? That team passed on me! OK, that team passed on me. They could’ve come and got me.”

And he’s right. He was sitting there waiting for an opportunity and only one came. It just so happened to be with one of the most decorated franchises and head coaches in the history of the NFL. They had an opening and Newton more than fills it.

If he’s healthy. And, honestly, there’s no way to know.

Here’s what’s remarkable about Newton in 2018, in spite of playing half the season with a bum shoulder. As stated earlier, the Panthers brought in Norv Turner to be their offensive coordinator. For the first time since Newton’s second year in the league, he had a legitimate NFL play designer and playcaller on the sidelines.

For his first two seasons Newton worked with Rod Chudzinski, a competent if  unspectacular NFL playcaller. Chuds left the Panthers to spend a season getting fired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns before taking over playcalling duties for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts. That all worked out pretty well.

Replacing Chudzinski, the Panthers went with Mike Shula, aka the “Eric” of the Shula family. Newton, by his sheer talent and ability, kept Shula employed for five seasons. He was fired by the Panthers and hired by the New York Giants in 2018 to successfully end Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame career in disaster.

Newton, though, in spite of his shoulder injury in 2018, had the best statistical season of his career. He completed a career high 67.9 percent of his passes along with a career high in completions (320). He passed for 3,395 yards and 24 touchdowns.

That’s who Pats OC Josh McDaniels is getting. A guy who can sling it accurately with freakish athletic ability no one else in the NFL possesses.

If he’s healthy. We’ll find out when camp opens.

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