Where will Cam Newton play next year? Breaking down the Panthers' four options for 2020 season with QB

There are two very different discussions to be had about Cam Newton right now, in the wake of the Panthers quarterback being placed on injured reserve. The first is simple: Cam is an all-time player for the Carolina Panthers, a former MVP, an NFL unicorn who was arguably the single most deadly red zone threat in the history of the game for however long he played at his peak. Anyone spending the ensuing weeks and months dancing on Cam's grave needs to reevaluate their priorities and sensibilities. 

The second discussion about Cam is far more complex: what happens with Newton in 2020? For the second straight season, and for the third time in four years since his MVP campaign of 2015, Newton's year is done earlier than expected. This time around the details surrounding the injury are far less vague. Newton is not battling a mysterious shoulder injury preventing him from throwing down the field. He's dealing with a Lisfranc injury, something that should not be taken lightly. The original six-week timetable thrown out was always far too optimistic.

Brady Quinn dealt with a similar injury in 2009 (and, as he detailed on the Pick Six Podcast Wednesday -- listen below and subscribe here -- had the same doctor as Cam), declined to undergo surgery at the time and still regrets not doing so. Put another way, surgery is the only truly viable option for a Lisfranc injury like this if Cam wants to come back fully. 

The problem for Newton is the timing. Surgery is probably going to require something in the range of four months to recover. That puts his timetable for being "back" roughly around the start of the league year. Surgery could potentially force the Panthers hand on his roster status. It could make trading him nearly impossible. 

We can't answer anything about his long-term status until we know his decision with respect to recovery. 

Additionally, it would be impossible to say for certain what will happen with Cam until we know who is making the decision. David Tepper is in his second year as Panthers owner. It would be hardly unsurprising if he decided to go with a "clean slate" situation in Carolina if the Panthers combust and miss the playoffs. 

Please note: I think the current Panthers regime gets a bad rap. Marty Hurney is an underrated GM who did really good work reshaping the roster while stepping in on the fly for the fired Dave Gettleman, Ron Rivera is an excellent defensive head coach and Norv Turner/Scott Turner have done outstanding work with Kyle Allen. I'm not sure blowing it all up is the answer. But when you spend $2 billion on a football team, you get to decide what you want to do. That's just the reality of the situation.

So, armed without the knowledge of what Cam plans to do medically and without the knowledge of who will be making the decision on his future, let's look at the four possible options for Newton's future.

Cam stays with Panthers

There is absolutely a path for Newton to end up in Carolina next year. Cam has a $21.1 million cap hit next season, hardly an expensive layout for a would-be franchise quarterback. They can save more than $19 million in cap space by releasing Cam, which is why this is a discussion in the first place. For this scenario to happen, Cam would have to be willing to play 2020 on the final year of his deal, knowing if he played exceptional football the Panthers could then franchise tag him in lieu of just giving him a longer deal. 

If Cam is willing to do that, there is a pretty good chance Carolina won't want to just cut him loose in the wild and risk Newton resurfacing in good health on another roster. $21 million is a steal for a potential franchise quarterback and the cap is high enough where the Panthers can run the risk of seeing whether Cam could get healthy to play in 2020. Allen has looked awesome given where he came from, but a healthy Cam is a force to be reckoned with. 

I *think* this path would require Rivera and Hurney to stay in place. Remember, Hurney drafted Cam in 2011 before being fired in the middle of the 2012 season by Jerry Richardson after a 1-5 start. His statement about Cam's competitiveness when Carolina put Newton on IR Tuesday showed how much he cares for the quarterback. 

Ironically, if the Panthers make the playoffs, it's because Allen plays well enough that the Panthers could justify the opportunity to release Newton and roll with Allen/third-round pick Will Grier on a full-time basis. 

Cam gets released

This is an entirely likely scenario. If Cam wants a longer deal from Carolina, there is a good chance the Panthers will decline to acquiesce. They simply cannot drop give a frequently injured quarterback more guaranteed money or give Cam additional years on his current contract. There's a chance that comes to a head if Newton wants more security from Carolina.  

It's possible, although not guaranteed, he could get a multi-year deal on the market. If Cam's agent Bus Cook determines that's a legitimate possibility, or if Cam's camp believes Allen will be the starter in 2020 or even if there's a legitimate competition, we could see the long-time Panther cause a scene within the building and try to force his way out. 

To do this -- and sacrifice more than $20 million in the process -- Newton would need to be extremely confident in his own health come the middle of March. If he's that sure he'll be healthy by the time the new league year rolls around, it stands to reason the Panthers would either keep him on the roster and try to play him or to trade him.

Carolina projects to have plenty of cap space and is unlikely to chase after big-name free agents. They can hold onto Cam if he's healthy. The most likely scenario in which he's released involves a) the Panthers not believing Newton will be healthy enough for 2020 and their money could be better spent elsewhere or b) Carolina deciding to hit the reset button after a rough close to the season and letting Cam walk as they reboot everything. 

Once again, there is no likely scenario here. Everything is in play. Including Cam being on another team at the start of the year.

Cam gets traded

I keep trying to picture Cam Newton in a Bears uniform and ... it's not that tough? Maybe that's the somewhat similar color scheme to Auburn? I don't know. Cam has never played for anyone other than the Panthers but it's not unfeasible to imagine him playing somewhere else if Carolina could get the right price in return. 

Again, though, this is going to be tricky. If the Panthers ultimately decide they want to trade him, those talks would likely occur at the 2020 NFL Combine in late February. A trade would likely be consummated at the beginning of the league year, in the middle of March. If Carolina doesn't deal Cam by the start of April, he seems reasonable to suggest he'll be on the team come September barring a surprising turn of events (see: below) or an injury/draft situation changing the quarterback market for a contender. 

So Newton would need to be healthy by March for the Panthers to truly extract value for him. Maybe some AFC team is willing to give up a third-round pick. (Maybe the Chargers franchise tag Philip Rivers, make him unhappy, and the two teams swap quarterbacks. Just lobbing it out there. It's not like Rivers has played for Norv Turner or anything.)

We should see Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, possibly Jameis Winston, possibly Philip Rivers, technically Tom Brady and Drew Brees, Ryan Tannehill and potentially Dak Prescott (although he would likely be tagged) become free agents. That would make it increasingly difficult to get value for Cam in return because teams could simply sign a healthy free agent option instead. 

Who needs a quarterback? The Pats are a wild card with the Brady situation, but the Jets/Dolphins/Bills either drafted someone or will draft someone. The Ravens, Steelers and Browns have all invested through the draft or via contract. The Bengals should draft someone or stick with Ryan Finley. The Texans, Jaguars and Colts have all invested. The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins appear set for the foreseeable future. The Packers, Vikings and Lions are locked in barring a shock. Carolina isn't trading Cam inside the division unless he's injured and then he won't get traded inside the division. The Chiefs and Raiders don't look like destinations right now. The 49ers, Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals all appear locked in at the position.

That basically leaves the Titans, Chargers, Broncos and Bears. It's not a huge market for a quarterback trade with all those free agent pieces to move around. Carolina would love to find someone to give them a high- or mid-round pick for Newton if a) he's healthy and b) they're prepared to move on.

I'm not sure that confluence of events actually comes to fruition. 

Walks away from football

Don't rule this out. Newton has spent the last four years watching his body betray him. Multiple offseason shoulder surgeries and this foot injury have probably sapped a little of the love for the game Cam showed for so long. I have to believe Newton saw Andrew Luck throw up the deuces and walk away from football weeks before the 2019 season began and just disappear into the void, free from the week-to-week scrutiny about his status on the injury report. 

Cam, like Luck, isn't a Hall of Fame quarterback right now. If he played five years or more in the future, maybe that changes. He could easily work himself into the conversation for Canton based on his unique skillset. 

Does he want to try and come back from another major injury? Is it worth it to him, at the age of 31 (he'll hit that mark this offseason), to try and grind his way back from a major foot injury to try and win a starting spot in the NFL again? Newton made more than enough money during his time in the NFL. His place in NFL lore is pretty secure thanks to that incredible 2015 MVP run and his record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. We probably won't ever see another Cam Newton. 

I hope he doesn't leave, because I love watching Cam play. But if he did I wouldn't blame him one bit. He probably shouldn't expect the glowing praise Luck got when he walked away. The, ahem, narrative won't be the same. I think we all know better than that. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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