Scott Fowler

Cam Newton obviously dislikes trade, but now it’s his job to embrace it – and win

If you had walked into Cam Newton’s press conference Wednesday completely unaware of the events of the past 24 hours and just listened, you would have likely asked this question at the end:

Who died?

It felt like a funeral, with hushed tones and downcast expressions.

“It’s gone,” Newton said. “It’s over with. It’s time for us to move forward, however hard it may be.”

The quarterback was talking about Kelvin Benjamin, who is very much alive and still technically leads the Carolina Panthers in receiving yards. But Benjamin was suddenly shipped to the Buffalo Bills on Halloween.

Benjamin was Newton’s favorite wide receiver and one of his all-time favorite guys, and you can tell Newton is having a tough time with the whole idea. The quarterback said the right things Wednesday, and he also made sure to stick around for every question that was asked. In a welcome change, Newton was on the edge of the hurricane for the Panthers’ latest controversy rather than in the eye of it.

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In happier times, Kelvin Benjamin (13) and Cam Newton joked around during Fan Fest in August at Bank of America Stadium. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Newton kept saying he didn’t want to talk about the Panthers’ decision to trade Benjamin for a couple of 2018 draft picks. But then he kept getting asked about it. And finally, he opened up when asked a question about whether he would speak to other players to make sure that trading their No. 1 receiver didn’t negatively impact the 5-3 Panthers as they prepare for Sunday’s critical home game vs. Atlanta.

What followed was this Newton monologue, which included one of Newton’s conversational tics. When the quarterback is really speaking from his heart, he often throws in the phrase “you know what I’m saying?”

No ‘parade’ when Cam leaves?

“I think we’re good,” Newton said of the locker room’s mentality. “We’re in the right place. At the end of the day, it’s a business. You think Atlanta cares about that, you know what I’m saying?

“My feelings aren’t relevant, you know what I’m saying? We’ve got one job to do, that’s win football games. And I’m up to that task, you know what I’m saying?

“It’s hard when you have emotional attachments. That happened with Benji, that happened with Joe (Webb, the backup quarterback the Panthers released just before the season)…. (I) took it hard. But at the end of the day, life goes on. I don’t want no sob story. I don’t think they’re going to have a parade when I leave here, you know what I’m saying?

“It’s still going to be football on Sunday. Protest, no protest. At the end of the day, this person here, that person gone – football’s still going to be on Sunday…. I’m saying that in the sense that everything moves forward. Just because things that you’re used to aren’t the same, you still have to move forward.”

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (left) and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin ran together during training camp in August. Newton and Benjamin frequently hung out during camp, as they have for the past several years. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

There’s a lot to unpack there. Newton is obviously upset about Benjamin but he also desperately wants to have a very good season this year. He’s going to try to “soldier on,” to use head coach Ron Rivera’s term, as the Panthers surround their franchise QB with more young, unproven receivers who also happen to be quite a bit faster than the guy Newton called “Benji.” The quarterback is not going to throw a public fit about losing Benjamin.

But what about that “parade” quote? Newton is probably right in one sense – there won’t be a parade when Cam Newton finally leaves Charlotte and the Panthers, but there also hasn’t been a parade that I can remember for any other player in Panther history, and that includes the late Sam Mills.

There will certainly be a statue of Cam Newton outside the stadium, though,because he deserves that. And there might be a berth in the Pro Football Hall of Fame awaiting him. And if Newton is feeling unappreciated in Charlotte, all he has to do is raise and lower his hands on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium and realize the power he wields to make 70,000 voices rise and fall.

A ‘win’ for Buffalo Bills?

Yes, he’s had his issues. But Cam Newton is beloved by a very large number of Panthers fans and is one of the greatest players in Carolina history. And, like any athlete, he is more beloved when he wins than when he loses.

Winning is the thing here, just like it usually is in an NFL locker room. If Newton can win with this offense, he will be lauded for adjusting on the fly. If the Panthers win, Marty Hurney probably has the word “interim” removed from his general manager title in 2018. If the Panthers win, the heat gets turned down on offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

But if this whole experiment blows up – if Carolina gets beaten 34-10 Sunday and that’s only the beginning of a six-game losing streak when the offense looks even worse while Benjamin is making the Pro Bowl – then everything is different. Shula, Hurney, Newton, Rivera – it’s conceivable that any or all of them could be gone by the time 2018 rolls around. Newton is probably the safest of them all, given his monster contract and the fact that he plays the most important position on the field well enough that he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player only two seasons ago.

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Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had 475 yards receiving – best on the team – through the Panthers’ first eight games. His 32 receptions rank third behind Christian McCaffrey (49) and Devin Funchess (33). Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

But Newton is also hurting right now. His friend is gone. Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane is declaring the Benjamin trade “a win for the Buffalo Bills,” and you’ll find a lot of people who agree with that (although I don’t).

‘Hates to see one of his good friends leave’

Nevertheless, the old chestnut about the NFL really standing for “Not For Long” got some fresh use again Wednesday as the locker room came to terms with Benjamin’s sudden absence.

“Everybody has a little heaviness in their hearts,” Panthers wide receiver Russell Shepard said, gesturing at Benjamin’s empty locker.

As for Newton: “I don’t even have to see Cam to know Cam is disappointed,” Shepard said. “He hates to see one of his good friends leave. But at the same time, he’s our leader. He believes in the guys who are in the room right now and I think he’s going to do his best to help us step up to the challenge.”

He better be. Because the other part of Newton’s monologue that was important was this: “We’ve got one job to do – that’s win football games. And I’m up to that task, you know what I’m saying?”

Yes, we know what you’re saying. And no one actually died here. It may seem bad, but it’s ultimately not that serious.

Time for everyone to move along, and time for Cam Newton to play like it’s 2015 all over again.

Because the only parade anybody will be getting in Charlotte comes for the entire team, and that only comes after the Panthers win their first-ever Super Bowl.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

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