Fielding an MVP caliber quarterback is a rare treat for an NFL team. The passers honored with football’s annual most prestigious individual honor are considered the faces of the league. Through their excellence and capacity for demoralizing respective defenses, they represent a tonal shift in how the game is evaluated and played. Think of names like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and most recently, Pat Mahomes. Players who set the standard for everyone else, and place defensive coordinators in a perennial state of restlessness and fatigue. Generational talents that transcend scheme and the confines of a traditional playbook, no matter the circumstances.
While it’s been years since his peak, Cam Newton is one of these such exceptional quarterbacks. Newton has carried the Panthers for the last approximate decade. A porous offensive line or a deficient receiving corps has never diminished the 30-year-old’s ability to lift his team. It makes the MVP honor he captured in 2015—where he created 45 touchdowns and almost 4,500 yards from scrimmage—one of the more impressive individual seasons in recent memory.
Newton hasn’t reached the same statistical heights since. Lingering injuries that have nagged away at his body for years are finally asking him to pay a toll he’s been able to place in forbearance in the past. The Panthers haven’t helped. They’ve seemingly done everything in their power to make certain Newton carries as much weight as possible on his already debilitated body. It’s a testament to his prowess that it took this long for a full physical breakdown to occur.
Whatever Newton does have left in the tank puts him on a pedestal above any other available veteran quarterback in the coming months. It makes him the Bears’ most attractive option to resuscitate a contending window.
In the midst of the Bears’ disappointing 2019 season, defenders of Matt Nagy and his offense have all the fodder they need. Every time Mitchell Trubisky fails to make basic reads and throws it serves as a reminder of what Nagy’s offense might accomplish with a quarterback who isn’t in over his head. The contention is that Nagy’s scheme would look far better with general competence under center, as would be the case for most offense’s.
But how would it fare with someone that can transcend past its fundamental needs? A healthy Newton would have the answer to that fateful question. At his finest, or whatever’s left of his finest, Newton can still be a franchise quarterback. What he may lack in sometimes merely above average passing numbers, he makes up for by dragging strong safeties and linebackers down field when running the ball. He rises to the occasion in the clutch, when others would wilt and fade into obscurity. He can remain a quarterback earning mentions, even in passing, in MVP conversations.
There is no one that can better remedy Nagy’s desperate plight than Newton. Players of his level not only cover up warts, they permanently expel their existence. If the Bears are operating in the extreme short term, taking a flier on Newton is their best bet.
Any acquisition of Newton by the Bears comes with two main drawbacks.
The first is the key operating word of health. Given how poorly the Panthers have built around Newton over the years, he’s always had issues with his body. If he wasn’t built like a 245-pound linebacker who happens to excel as a quarterback, it boggles the mind as to how long his career would have lasted after the hits he’s endured. No one has battled back against rampant attrition like Newton. But Father Time is undefeated. Winning that battle becomes more and more difficult the more time wears on, and the more the body breaks down into pieces.
If the Bears wanted to invest in Newton, they’d have to be patient. They’d have to afford him space as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury. They’d have to believe that a shoulder he’s had two surgeries on in the last three years has remaining salvageable power. Given appropriate time to recover, he likely wouldn’t be ready for action until the summer. It’s the ultimate boom or bust prospect. A shell of Newton keeps the Bears in the same neutral place they sit in now. The Newton seen as recently as 2017 places Chicago back in justifiable Super Bowl conversations. There is no grey area, there is no in-between.
Before the Bears can concern themselves over Newton’s recuperation, he has to be available. Reports have said the veteran would “welcome” a trade to the Bears in the spring. But that would mean the Panthers are prepared to give up on the best player in their franchise’s history. It would mean Carolina has come to the conclusion that investing in Kyle Allen’s future is more prudent than squeezing another year or so out of Newton. Moving forward with Allen looked easy when the 23-year-old helped guide the Panthers to four wins in his first four starts. It doesn’t look as simple when he shows the capacity to be a turnover machine, such as in a four-interception outing against the Falcons in Week 11.
Seeing the Panthers move on from Newton isn’t wholly foolish. From a roster-building perspective, they could convince themselves that the fat lady has sung over his stay in Charlotte. Cutting him before the new league year would leave them with but $2 million in dead cap space. In any trade, it’s not a stretch to say he could warrant a Day 2 draft selection. If the Panthers believe in Allen for the long-term, it makes sense to leave Newton hanging and cut ties.
But moving on from a catalyst of sustained relevance requires a unique audacity. Someone in the Carolina front office has to confidently state that not only will Newton never be the same, but that his health history isn’t worth the trouble anymore. In the event that Newton is cut or traded in the coming months, the Panthers’ would hate nothing more than the quarterback thriving in a new city while Allen struggles. It would be a disaster for the public relations department. It would leave the organization in dire straits. The wall and chalk are prepared for the end of Newton’s tenure in Carolina, but someone has to write it.
A Bears’ addition of Newton has clear, substantial benefits. It also poses significant hazards, not all of which are under the Bears’ control. The former outweighing the latter would erase the organization’s most recent and most egregious misstep at quarterback, and place Chicago back in the pantheon of contenders.
Robert welcomes Newton, and his penchant for flair, and will not hear otherwise.
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