Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair his throwing shoulder.
There’s nothing scheduled to fix Newton’s confidence, but that will have to be addressed this offseason as well.
After a Week 17 loss at Tampa Bay, Newton said he needed a sabbatical following his worst NFL season – one that started with a battering by the Denver Broncos and ended with him playing three games with a partially torn rotator cuff.
In between, there was a concussion at Atlanta, a first-series benching in a Sunday night game at Seattle, a conversation with Roger Goodell about repeated hits to Newton’s head and lower extremities and a whole lot of incomplete passes.
“He’s going to have to rebuild his confidence. It was shook. Let’s be honest, I’m not going to lie about that,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday at the owners meetings.
“The young man went through a tough time and we went through a tough time. Why? Because of the injuries that occurred on the offensive line. That was probably the biggest thing. I think it just shows even more the importance and significance of being able to protect your quarterback.”
The Panthers addressed that by signing left tackle Matt Kalil to the most lucrative deal they’ve ever given a free agent, and Rivera expects Michael Oher to play this season after his lengthy stint in the concussion protocol.
Rivera also did nothing Wednesday to quiet the speculation the Panthers will go after a running back high in next month’s draft. Related: Rivera will be in Baton Rouge next week for Leonard Fournette’s pro day.
If the Panthers really want to restore Newton’s mojo and keep defensive ends at bay, give him a 240-pound back with elite straight-line speed to share, say, 35 carries a game with Jonathan Stewart.
If Oher truly is healthy – and Rivera, like Dave Gettleman, sounded confident Wednesday – that answers the biggest question up front. But as has been mentioned in this space before, Newton needs another playmaker.
It’s going to be tougher for defenders to tee off on Newton when he keeps handing the ball off to two big backs, finding Greg Olsen in the play-action game and lobbing fade routes to Kelvin Benjamin in the red zone.
But the fortunes of the offense – and the entire franchise – still fall on Newton’s broad shoulders, one of which will be marked with fresh incisions following Thursday’s arthroscopic surgery.
Rivera defended the decision to keep playing Newton in three meaningless games while middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was shut down for those same three games despite being cleared from the concussion protocol.
“I don’t think I need to reconcile that as much because of the fact that they’re two different athletes, two different injuries,” Rivera said.
Rivera pointed out that a week after Newton injured his shoulder against San Diego, he went to Washington and hung 300 yards on Jay Gruden’s defense. But by the New Year’s Day finale in Tampa, Newton was floating very unCamlike passes and looked like a guy whose arm and psyche both needed a break.
Rivera said all the hits – legal or otherwise – took a toll on Newton. But so did the close losses – six by a field goal or less.
The effervescent, dabbing Cam from 2015 gave way to the brooding, frustrated Cam from Newton’s first two seasons.
“He’s human. He’s a tough-minded football player that does everything he can to win. It was a tough year last year,” Rivera said. “But I also think it was a great learning experience for all of us, a humbling experience. I think it’s something we can use and build on as we go forward.”
Rivera says he expects Newton to be “actively involved” during OTAs and minicamp. The real test will come in late July or early August, when the plan is for Newton to begin throwing again.
And somewhere along the line – ideally during training camp – the Panthers hope Newton starts smiling again, too.