As a student-athlete many moons ago, Cam Newton stole a laptop at the University of Florida. Much like Jameis walking out of a Tallahassee supermarket with an armful of comped crab legs, this was a story from which Newton could never escape.
Super Bowl appearance and league MVP award notwithstanding, the story of the laptop followed Newton wherever he went. Of course, Cam is not the only broke college student to take a laptop that wasn’t his. It just so happens that when you’re one of college football’s biggest stars, you live under a more discerning microscope.
Newton would eventually transfer from Florida to Auburn, where he would find redemption, winning a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and the right to become the number one overall draft pick. Five full seasons later, he would win NFL MVP and carry the team that drafted him, the Carolina Panthers, to Super Bowl 50. They would lose that game to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
It would be the last game of Manning’s career but Newton’s future seemed bright. He had thrown 35 touchdowns and only ten interceptions that season, leading the Panthers to a record of 15-1. A giant mass of a man, mobile with a strong arm, a quarterback the likes the league had rarely seen, the NFL would undoubtedly be Newton’s for years to come, a proverbial if not literal changing of the guard timed perfectly with Manning’s departure.
Six years later, that promise fizzled. Cam would play four more seasons with the Panthers, finishing over .500 in only one of them. By 2019, health became a question. The Panthers suddenly found themselves unable to trade a man who was supposed to turn around their franchise, if not the league. He ended up with the Patriots, who found themselves looking to replace a quarterback who had taken his talents to Tampa Bay.
And so, with renewed hope, the Cam experiment in Foxborough began. It lasted for one, grueling and forgettable season. Cam never seemed to grasp what head coach Bill Belichick wanted to accomplish. If it’s anything New England had become accustomed to over the past two decades, it’s winning football games. Cam won only seven.
By most early accounts, at only 32 and by no means over the hill for an NFL quarterback, Newton seemed headed for a new lease on life. His second year in Foxborough would exorcise all those demons. The franchise had drafted Tom Brady’s eventual successor in Mac Jones. While it was understood that Newton would only be serving as lame duck, if he could return ever so slightly to his MVP form, there’s no telling how long Jones would remain on the sidelines.
Tuesday morning, that Band-aid was ripped clean off as Cam Newton was cut by the New England Patriots. It was shocking to anyone not following the team. Cam was only slated to make $5 million, a mere pittance of a cap hit for a starting NFL quarterback. That’s how badly they didn’t want him. He’ll be leaving Foxborough with only what was guaranteed from that contract as he’s polishes up his resume.
For the first time in a long time, the NFL is not lacking for quality quarterbacks, which means there are not too many doors upon which Cam’s agent can knock, especially if teams see him as a potential cancer in the clubhouse. How many NFL teams could Cam currently start for? The answer is not many. How many teams might want him in their locker room? Potentially fewer.
Ten years in the National Football League is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you tack on a league MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. While Cam Newton had a fine career, one could definitely make the argument he didn’t live up to his potential.
This is nowhere near the biggest fall from grace in sports history but it is surprising. And at 32, his career might not be over but it doesn’t look promising.
Plenty of NFL athletes, like Barry Sanders or Jim Brown, quit the game at the height of their careers. Others, like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Jerry Rice, played and excelled longer than anyone could have expected, making 40 look like the new 30. Others, like John Elway or Peyton Manning, played until they could barely walk off the field yet still did so on their own exhausted terms. And others, like Andrew Luck, simply called it quits knowing they could no longer perform at the level they expected of themselves. Cam Newton falls into the less fortunate category of leaving the game because nobody wanted him. He had worn out his welcome.
I don’t know what’s going on with Cam but whatever it is, his mind, body and soul are not all in and haven’t been for some time. How else could one explain a seasoned veteran getting cut for an unproven rookie?
And so, Cam hits the pavement looking for one last chance. I’d say only he can determine his fate but at this point, it might be too late.