Time to ditch Cam Newton?

By Jeff Linville - jlinville@mtairynews.com

The Carolina Panthers have a bye week, so instead, let’s have a hypothetical discussion.

The Panthers are 2-1 with a defense that has been hit and miss with star LB Thomas Davis watching from the sideline. The offense has been really good, averaging 27 points a game, with Christian McCaffrey on pace for 1,000 yards rushing and Devin Funchess very close to that in receiving (987-yard pace).

Cam Newton is on pace for a career-high in completion percentage, lowest interception rate and QB rating.

So is now the time to trade him?

Oh, struck a nerve, didn’t I?

In the stock market, traders like to buy low and sell high, and this is the highest that Cam Newton has ever been in his career. Are we to believe that Cam will stay at this level, or will he regress to what he was the previous two seasons when the offense struggled?

Emotionally, this would be a hard thing to pull off. He has become a fan favorite and has a lot of support from his teammates. Moving him — even for the best reasons — would be a hard sell to the players and fans. This would be much like the Alonzo Mourning trade that angered Hornets fans — only worse because Mourning had already been thinking about leaving as a free agent when his contract ran out at the end of the season.

But looking at this objectively like Dave Gettleman did by shedding Steve Smith and Deangelo Williams, would it be the best thing for the longevity of the franchise?

Cam is easily the most expensive player on the team at $21.5 million this season, plus $23.2 million in 2019 and $21.1 million in 2020. At that point, he would be about to turn 32 years old and likely wouldn’t be able to make the running plays he does now. Plus, there is something to consider in the number of hits he has taken over the past few years. Since 2015, no QB has been hit as much as Cam, and that could have a cumulative effect after a while that isn’t obvious yet.

The entire 53-man roster gets $177.2 million under the salary cap this year. One player makes up 12 percent of that.

As Green Bay found out last year, all it takes is one tough hit to send a QB to the injured reserve, and then all that investment is wasted. So does it make sense to have that much money tied up in a quarterback who has been below league average the past two seasons?

Consider this: Newton, Kawann Short, Ryan Kalil, Mario Addison, Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen and Trai Turner make up $81.72 million. Add in Dontari Poe, Julius Peppers and Torrey Smith, and you have 10 players making $97 million out of the $177 million in the salary cap — or an average of $9.7 million each.

That leaves 43 players with $80 million, but the Panthers also like to keep $5 million back for emergencies, like picking up an extra safety and tackle. So you might have 43 guys sharing $75 million, or $1.74 million each.

Sure, that’s still a whole lot of money, but you think that doesn’t have an impact in the locker room with a handful making an average of six times what the rest do?

Efe Obada, the NFC defensive player of the week, is making $480,000 this week. Three players seeing action on the offensive line are in similar shape with Chris Clark ($593,000), Greg Van Roten ($780,000) and Amini Silatolu ($720,000). Taylor Moton ($945,000) and Tyler Larson ($1.1 million) aren’t far ahead.

Then there are Ryan Kalil at $9.9 million and Trai Turner at $7.7 million. Are they really 10 or 12 times better than the guys standing next to them?

Taylor Heinicke is being paid $705,000 as Cam’s backup. Is Cam worth 30 times that salary? If people are giving Norv Turner credit for making Cam a more efficient quarterback, who is to say that the same thing couldn’t happen with Heinicke?

Now consider what the Kansas City Chiefs did in the offseason, trading Alex Smith to the Redskins.

The Chiefs got a starting cornerback and a third-round pick for Smith, who at 34 was much older and less athletic than Cam at 29. Not only did the Chiefs get a couple of players out of the deal, but the huge salary difference between Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes allowed the Chiefs to pay Sammy Watkins $7.8 million to be another weapon.

Suddenly the Chiefs have the hottest offense in the NFL. Addition by subtraction.

In 2011, the NFL owners had a lockout because they couldn’t come to a compromise with the players’ association on a new agreement. Maybe it’s time the NFL looked at the NBA’s idea of a maximum salary for any one player so that quarterbacks don’t cripple a whole team.

Until then, a team like the Panthers could try to take advantage of high salaries by playing up Cam’s $21.5 million as a “bargain” in today’s economy. And use the savings to fill out a better overall roster.

By Jeff Linville

jlinville@mtairynews.com

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.