Have we seen Cam Newton’s last game with the Panthers?

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton’s injury was supposed to doom the Panthers’ season, but has Kyle Allen done enough in his absence to make the former No. 1 pick expendable?

Ever since the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, he has served as the focal point of the team’s offense. Perhaps more importantly, he’s also been the face of the franchise. When the 2019 regular season is through, it’s possible that Newton will become the face of the NFL’s Free Agency class.

The simple truth is that the Panthers have played better without Newton on the field this season. The team has lost both of his starts while they’ve won each of the three games Kyle Allen has taken the field in his place. Allen isn’t just managing the Panthers’ offense, he’s operating it with devastating efficiency.

The 23-year-old has completed over 66% of his passes on the season and has thrown five touchdowns compared to zero interceptions. Allen certainly lacks the ability to make plays with his legs that has defined Newton’s career, but he’s also clearly a more accurate passer. With him at the helm of Norv Turner’s attack, the ball gets out quickly to the Panthers’ underrated group of playmakers. Newton could often be criticized for holding on to the ball too long or trying to win games on his own. Those criticisms cannot be levied at Allen.

Allen’s stellar play could present Ron Rivera and company with an impossible choice assuming Newton gets healthy this season. If Cam does get right, he’ll expect to walk right back into the starting lineup. If Allen leads the Panthers to a stellar record in Newton’s absence, it will be very difficult for the coaching staff to take him off the field. Either decision will invite criticism for the higher-ups in Charlotte.

The question of what the Panthers will do with Newton in the offseason is even more interesting. The former Auburn star is heading into the last potential year of his current contract in 2020. Interestingly, the Panthers can cut or trade Newton before the start of next season while only accruing $2 million in dead cap money. The more important number is the potential $19.1 million Carolina can save by moving on from their franchise quarterback.

The decision of what to do with Newton next offseason is even more nuanced than that. Allowing Newton to head into the last year of his contract without an extension opens up a number of potential negative outcomes for the franchise. In an ideal world, the upcoming offseason was supposed to be the time when Newton got his next contract extension. His injury issues have made that a very unlikely outcome.

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In all likelihood, this issue will boil down to whether or not Newton can return this season and prove to the Panthers that his injury issues are behind him. If that doesn’t happen, officials in Carolina will be sorely tempted to go with the cheaper, more durable Allen at quarterback next season. That might be an unpopular decision with some Panthers fans, but it could be the right decision to help strengthen the rest of the roster to the point where Carolina can become legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2020 and beyond.

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