Former MVP quarterback Cam Newton will undergo foot surgery next week to repair a lingering Lisfranc injury and should be cleared for football activities by the start of spring practices, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The procedure would not curtail the Panthers ability to trade Newton, should the franchise opt to go in that direction.
Owner David Tepper is reshaping the coaching and football operations departments in his second year after taking over the franchise, and after firing longtime head coach Ron Rivera last week, many around the league believe he will end up moving on from Newton as well. Newton is in the final year of his massive contract extension in 2020 and has been hurt most of the last two years. Tepper was always lukewarm at best about the prospects of giving the quarterback another top-of-the-market contract, sources said.
Newton has not played since Week 2, when he was clearly hobbled by the foot problem. He acknowledged that he was not as forthright with the medical staff and coaches as he should have been about the extent of his discomfort, and he was not able to progress as hoped from a lengthy schedule of rehab and recovery, leading to his placement on injured reserve, which ended his season. Newton, who turns 31 in May, had an outstanding first half of the 2018 season, then suffered a significant shoulder injury, giving Tepper a very limited window of seeing the former first-overall pick thrive.
Tepper is expected to cast a wide net in his coaching search, taking in new ideas and philosophies from the pro and coaching ranks, though his remarks in the aftermath of letting Rivera go indicate a preference for an offensive or QB-driven head coach who is open to the analytics revolution taking place in pro sports. It remains to be seen what these coaches express about their level of comfort with Newton as the head coaching interviews commence, as well as what they think of Kyle Allen, the current starter, or rookie Will Grier, who has yet to play and is not expected to see the field in 2019, sources said.
Carrying a quarterback on a rookie salary would of course allow for extreme flexibility to upgrade other parts of the roster and address other needs, and there is a strong analytics-based case to be made about that structure of team building in the modern NFL. Regardless, the timing of Newton's surgery should not impact the Panthers' ability to deal him.
While all of the details of the timetable will not be known until after the surgery is conducted, sources said this is not a situation where a five-or-six month recovery is expected, and there is a chance Newton could be cleared to return in mid-to-late March. That would allow him ample time to get on the field prior to the draft; ideally, any trade would be consummated by then in order for Carolina to reap the rewards of those picks in the 2020 season. Several teams who believe they are a quarterback away from contending next year are likely to prefer Newton to what they could find picking later in the draft, though the Panthers could certainly afford to retain the veteran from a cash and cap standpoint as well.
The coaching search will play a pivotal role in the future of the quarterback position in Carolina, either way.