Cam The Entertainer? Newton sends off alarm bells

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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In all likelihood, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton won't be the first player chosen in the April draft. And he just reminded us why.

This has nothing to do with Nick Fairley or Da'Quan Bowers, Newton not playing in a pro-style offense or Newton starring for only one season at Auburn. Nope, this is all about maturity in your quarterback and future leader ... who has it and who doesn't. And who doesn't is Cam Newton.

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When he said this week that he wants to be "an entertainer" and "icon," he got my attention ... and I'm not talking warm and fuzzy. Granted, Newton's comments might be harmless, but you don't want to make a mistake at the top of the draft board, either. In essence, you don't want to be the poor saps exercising a high draft choice on the next JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young or Ryan Leaf, and I'm not saying that Newton is that guy.

But I'm not saying he isn't, either.

Look, I've seen about as much of him as you, and no question he's impressive. In fact, he looks as if he's playing at a different level and different speed than everyone else, the dominant figure in whatever game you choose to watch. But so was Young, and I remember draft experts predicting greatness for him, too, basically because he dominated the college game.

But physical qualities don't necessarily make franchise quarterbacks, and there is no better example than Chicago's Jay Cutler. He was in the same draft as Young, and despite a bazooka arm and quick release he was the third quarterback to go off the board. Reason: Some people questioned his leadership skills and maturity and were sufficiently wary to retreat.

It took Cutler five seasons to win in the pros, and it might take Newton that long if he doesn't start to figure this game out. But that's my point. With one interview this week he makes me wonder if he's really interested in solving the game. Apparently, he thinks he's already there.

I mean, if you want to be an entertainer, audition for MTV, not the Buffalo Bills or Carolina Panthers. And if you want to be an icon, be king of your own country.

Does Cam Newton have the maturity and intangibles to become an 'icon?' (AP)  
Does Cam Newton have the maturity and intangibles to become an 'icon?' (AP)  
Newton should want to be a quarterback who wins, makes his team better and becomes so proficient at what he does that we can't talk about the game's top quarterbacks without mentioning his name. Nothing more. You don't go into the NFL wanting to be an entertainer. You go into the NFL wanting to play and wanting to win, and whatever happens after that happens.

Case in point: Aaron Rodgers. He could have been the first pick of the 2005 draft, but he wasn't. So he waited for his name to be called, waited hours before Green Bay rescued him with the 24th choice. When he emerged to meet reporters, he said how grateful he was and promised to prove to the teams that passed him that they made a mistake. He would, he said, be a quarterback others wished they had.

He didn't say anything about entertaining or becoming an icon or a brand or a self-sustaining industry. Chad Ochocinco is an entertainer, and look where it has him -- on his way out of Cincinnati. Terrell Owens is another guy who sees himself as an entertainer, and he'll soon be looking for his fourth team in four years.

I don't say you can't or don't entertain when you go to pro football. Heck, pro sports ARE entertainment. But you don't go there with that as one of your immediate goals. You go to play and to win.

"Talk about not smart," said one head coach at this weekend's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "In my mind, this would knock him down a draft board. It strikes at the heart of character issues, and it makes you wonder how you could put any sort of trust in him."

I know Newton is young, and I know young people can be immature. That goes with the territory. But if you're an NFL owner about to sink a fortune in a business investment, you make sure you do everything you can to ensure that investment doesn't go south, and I suggest anyone who scoffs at the idea give the Oakland Raiders a call.

They had the most talented quarterback in the 2007 draft when they chose JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. The guy had a cannon for an arm and just led LSU to a Sugar Bowl victory. But he was a two-year sensation, and that made some scouts nervous. They weren't sure how good he really was -- nor were they sure he was ready for the next level.

Four years later, Russell is out of football, lasting three seasons with the Raiders before they had the good sense to kick him out the door. People there tell me he failed not because he didn't have the physical equipment to succeed but because he lacked the emotional hardware to get to the top. Essentially, they said, he didn't work at being an NFL quarterback.

Leaf is another example of a can't-miss quarterback who did because people paid more attention to his arm than his head. Like Russell and Newton, he was coming off a marvelous season, had a strong arm and could make all the throws. But he was incredibly immature, and it wasn't long before it had him in trouble and out of the league. One scout later told me the mistake the Bolts made was that while the Chargers did research on Leaf they didn't follow the recommendations made by specialists they hired to interview the guy.

Great.

Somebody should have acted then. I suspect somebody will act now. What Newton said is, by and of itself, not a big deal. But it could be. It could be a sign of something bigger, a personality flaw that needs to be explored before a buyer takes him home. All I know is that I'd like to know. And I guarantee there are teams at or near the top of this year's draft board that would, too.

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