Scott Fowler

The Panthers shouldn’t stop at one game. Cam Newton doesn’t need the preseason

Cam Newton doesn’t need the preseason.

That’s not because he’s too good of a quarterback. It’s because the risk of injury outweighs the minimal rewards that a nine-year NFL pro like Newton gets from playing in a glorified practice game.

Coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday that Newton won’t play in Carolina’s opening exhibition Thursday night at Chicago, which is smart. Kyle Allen will start at quarterback instead, with rookie Will Grier also getting substantial action and Taylor Heinicke likely mopping up in the fourth quarter.

And I’d go further than that in terms of Newton sitting out these exhibitions. I wouldn’t play Newton in the second, third or fourth preseason games, either. Sit him out entirely. Throw an invisibility cloak over him. Keep him and his throwing shoulder safe.

If the Panthers feel like they absolutely must — and again, I wouldn’t — they can give QB1 a few series in the third game, at New England on Aug. 22. But that’s it.

Let the young guys take everything else in August, because that’s where the Panthers can get a lot of good out of this month. If Newton gets hurt again and misses time, as he did in 2018, it’s going to be important to know whether Allen or Grier gives you the best shot at winning.

Cam Newton and Kyle Allen
Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen (7) throws downfield during the team’s 2019 training camp while Cam Newton watches. Allen will start the preseason game at Chicago Thursday night; Newton will not play. David T. Foster III

Let’s review the last time Newton didn’t play in the first preseason game. That was in 2017.

As he is now, Newton was then returning from offseason surgery to his throwing shoulder. As they are now, the Panthers were being incredibly careful with him.

Newton also didn’t play in the second exhibition that year. He threw a grand total of two passes in the third. He didn’t play at all in the fourth.

Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Will Grier (3), Taylor Heinicke (6), and Kyle Allen (7) are all competing to back up Cam Newton. With Newton not playing Thursday night at Chicago, each will likely see action. David T. Foster III

All of that sitting around -- and that measly two-pass preseason -- didn’t hurt him one bit. Newton stayed healthy the whole season, threw for 22 touchdowns, ran for six more and guided the Panthers to an 11-5 record and their only playoff appearance in the last three years.

If you scan Newton’s entire body of work in the preseason, and then look at what he did during the season that followed, there isn’t a lot of correlation. In 2015, for instance, he played in the first three preseason games. He only completed more than half his passes in one of them. Then he went out and won the NFL Most Valuable Player award.

Sit him. Make this preseason just like 2017 and hope that the regular season turns out the same way.

A ‘gunslinger’ at backup QB

In the meantime, no matter what the Panthers do with Newton, we will definitely get to see a lot of Allen and Grier in August. Heinicke clearly is the fourth quarterback right now and appears unlikely to make the team, but that could always change if someone gets hurt.

Allen has looked slightly better than Grier in training camp so far. He seems to have more of a grasp of the offense – which is understandable, since he’s been in Norv Turner’s system longer. And although Grier has hit on more long balls than any other QB in practice, the rookie has also telegraphed a few more of his throws.

“For a backup quarterback, they’ve got to give us a chance to win a football game,” Rivera said of the three quarterbacks who will play Thursday at Chicago. “That’s really what we’re looking for — what we saw from Kyle Allen last year. A guy who can come in, make plays, can maintain his poise and composure — and a little bit of a gunslinger. So we’ll see. We’ve got a couple of guys who really fit the bill. I really like what Kyle and Will and Taylor all have.”

Newton’s August, according to Rivera, is already all “mapped out.” That’s fine. As for the preseason games, though, let the young guys guide this part of the journey. They need the reps.

Newton? He just needs to throw in practice, avoid getting hurt and have September hurry up and get here.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”