A very generic way to start an article about Cam Newton’s lack of value relative to his perceived value is to say that “the cape doesn’t fit.” The self-proclaimed Man of Steel (note to self: if he signs with Pittsburgh the headlines will read “Man of Steelers”) on every uncontested one-yard touchdown run, Newton is now a free agent after the Carolina Panthers released him some four years after I wrote that he wasn’t deserving of the 2015 NFL MVP.
There’s plenty about that season that I won’t repeat because it’s in that link, but here’s the compressed version: the least-accurate starting quarterback in the league faces the softest schedule of defenses in the league and excels for one season at the unrepeatable task of scoring touchdowns, team goes 15-1 behind elite defense and rushing.
Unrepeatable in the sense that touchdowns are so situation dependent (think of a the “touchdown vulture” running back for example) that we often see players vary wildly year to year in how often they score. But even more obviously in the sense of Newton because he has played eight full(ish) NFL seasons and his 35-touchdown season of 2015 remains his only campaign with more than 24.
The rest of his passing statistics by in large remain consistently poor-to-mediocre.
I won’t get into the meat of all the arguments against my anti-Cam argument because I already lived through 2015 and 2016, but you might say:
“Cam didn’t have any weapons”
He had Steve Smith for awhile, Greg Olsen the whole time, a powerful RB combo and then Christian McCaffrey, and then a bunch of guys who were okay. There were also issues with accuracy on throws to these receivers, which was exacerbated by watching Kyle Allen play, who is somehow even more inaccurate than Cam. To focus on who the wide receivers in Carolina were during Cam’s tenure overlooks the fact that it would be irresponsible to build an offense towards players who he’d have trouble getting the ball to consistently. Lamar Jackson’s offense isn’t designed to have good receivers because the Baltimore Ravens think he’ll do better with quality tight ends, running backs, and options in the slot.
“Who cares about strength of schedule?”
People who want to judge players fairly and objectively when making comparisons.
“You probably think Russell Wilson should have won MVP”
Carson Palmer should have won MVP. If I were picking an MVP off of the 2015 Panthers, it would have been Luke Kuechly.
“He got them to the Super Bowl”
The defense embarrassed Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, willing the team to a 31-0 halftime lead, then they picked off Palmer four times in the NFC championship. Repeat: the second and third options for the 2015 MVP got pantsed by Carolina’s defense. Cam didn’t have much input in either game and his performance in the Super Bowl that year against a great defense was as I expected.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty to like about Cam — but emphasis on was because given that we don’t know his health status after missing virtually all of 2019, we can’t be sure that the Cam who returns is a more immobile or more inaccurate version — over his eight playing seasons with the Panthers. His athleticism and unique mobility did sometimes help Carolina’s offense more than the average QB, especially in 2011, 2013, and 2015. He can be an exciting player to watch, capable of explosive plays. He’s a quality personality to attach a franchise too, active in the community.
However as a quarterback, emphasis on the part of the job that involves passing the football which is a major part of it, Cam has long occupied the bottom-third.
Giving him a couple of years to grow into the league and beginning in 2013, when Cam was in his third season, and going to 2018, Newton ranked 32nd out of 36 in completion percentage, 22nd in yards per attempt, 28th in passer rating, 32nd in interception rate, and 12th in touchdown rate. The four QBs who ranked below him in completion percentage were Brock Osweiler, Colin Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer, and Blake Bortles, and I rarely heard people complain about who the receivers were for those quarterbacks.
This is not to say that Cam isn’t a better QB than those players because he has additional attributes, but for what reason should he not be judged fairly in these categories too? As a passer, we should be able to state without argument that Cam ranks as one of the very poorest regulars in the league.
People criticize passer rating — and they should — but keep this in mind: of the QBs ranked 25th to 36th in passer rating over that 2013-2018 period, not a single one is currently the starter for an NFL franchise.
Osweiler, Bortles, Hoyer, Kaepernick, Newton, Jameis Winston, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, and Joe Flacco.
These are the QBs ranked 21-24: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr.
So another guy who is no longer a starter, a borderline starter, and a starter who got benched and then just had his first really good career achievement.
The QB ranked 21st?
And just to be clear, I don’t think Taylor is a starting caliber NFL quarterback either, but at keeping him for $5 million or signing Cam for any price, I would take Taylor 100 times out of 100. If that’s not the meat of the argument for the Chargers not signing Cam, then it’s at least a filling appetizer. The meat could be Cam’s inaccuracy, penchant for poor decisions/mistakes, and health concerns. The asparagus is a contract. The potatoes are risking two of your three greatest offensive assets in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams by negating some of their value with an inaccurate QB.
The dessert is that the only focus of the next season should be to upgrade the roster around the quarterback position, keep your head above water with competitive football, and give it a go into the next offseason with wherever you happen to be at. I do think that’s the route that Tom Telesco and Anthony Lynn are going to go in, but in case there was any doubt ...
The cape doesn’t fit.