Panthers owner suggests Andrew Luck-style year off could be best for Cam Newton's shoulder injury

Jack BaerYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24788/" data-ylk="slk:Cam Newton">Cam Newton</a> spent the last two games of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/florida/" data-ylk="slk:Panthers">Panthers</a>’ season on the sideline. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Cam Newton spent the last two games of the Panthers’ season on the sideline. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Cam Newton’s season ended with the Carolina Panthers quarterback on the bench with a shoulder injury after a miserable stretch of games. Now, the Panthers’ owner seems to think the 29-year-old could use much, much more time off.

Principal owner David Tepper spoke with reporters Tuesday about the possibility of Newton resting or undergoing a second shoulder surgery. When the example of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s year off and incredible return was brought up, Tepper didn’t seem to think of that as a worst-case scenario.

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From ESPN:

Asked to compare Newton’s situation with that of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, owner David Tepper said Tuesday, “If you told me he took a year off and could recover and be fully recovered and everything else, and that’s what it took, an extra year, why wouldn’t you do [that]?”

“Now we would have to do other things, right? We’d have to go out and get another quarterback. If you could find me some more cap space I’d appreciate that.”

To be clear, Tepper is not saying Newton will be taking the 2019 season off or is in danger of taking the 2019 season off. He’s simply noting that Newton taking a year off would be a reasonable price for assuring the franchise quarterback returns at full strength, especially considering what Newton’s shoulder has already gone through.

Cam Newton’s history with shoulder injuries

Newton’s shoulder woes first popped up during a rough 2017 season, which led to him undergoing rotator cuff surgery after previously trying to avoid going under the knife.

Newton seemed to recover well and was ready to return by Week 1, posting a 100.8 passer rating in his first eight games of the season that would have been a career-high. The Panthers went 6-2 in those games.

Then, Newton’s performance fell off a cliff. He went from a 15-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his first eight games to 9-to-9 in his final six, a span of time in which the Panthers were winless. Opponents stopped worrying about covering the deep ball. By Week 16, the Panthers had seen enough, shutting the quarterback down for the team’s final two games.

Now, Newton’s status is clearly in a state of limbo as the team tries to figure out what to do with a player who clearly wasn’t 100 percent despite a previous surgery.

Why Andrew Luck’s story is enticing

Luck was in a similar position to Newton last year, and probably an even worse position if we’re being frank.

First, Luck played through a torn labrum in 2015, then he missed the second half of the season with an abdominal tear and kidney laceration. He also suffered an AC joint injury in his throwing shoulder from a snowboarding accident. That might have been a point when the Colts could have pressed pause on their franchise quarterback, but they instead had him play 15 games in 2016 before it was determined that his shoulder injury needed surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season.

Luck conceded that mistakes were made during his saga of injuries, but those mistakes didn’t stop him from coming back in 2018 and leading the Colts to the playoffs while throwing for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns in maybe the best season of his career.

As far as injury stories go, Luck’s is extraordinary. But that’s just it: It was extraordinary, and not something teams and fans should probably plan to replicate. That Luck returned better than ever certainly makes such a year off enticing, but it might be rash to treat the long break as the cause of his resurgence and not just evidence of the medical struggle the quarterback had to go through to reach this point.

There were times when it was in question whether or not Luck would ever make it back to an NFL field. To view the Panthers as needing to have Newton undergo a similar trajectory would require Newton to be in truly dire straits.

Who could replace Cam Newton if he misses 2019?

If the Panthers indeed decide to have Newton sit out for some, if not all, of the 2019 season, the team would obviously need a quarterback to fill the gap.

The Charlotte Observer reports that backup QB Kyle Allen’s strong start in Week 17 has the Panthers considering him as one of Newton’s fill-ins, though Nick Foles, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick are also mentioned as potential veteran stopgaps.

Then again, the Colts ended up with All-Pro rookies Quinton Nelson and Darius Leonard after going 4-12 in a 2017 season in which they clearly missed Luck. Those two players played key roles in the Colts’ resurgence behind Luck and beyond, but again, expecting to replicate the Colts’ success in the last year is probably an unrealistic endeavor.

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