Cam Newton Signs Deal to Return to Carolina Panthers

“We weren’t sure what his health was and we had to make a decision at the time,” Rhule said. “Cam understands that. He understands that these are football decisions and football evaluations you have to make.”

When the Patriots signed Newton it was to a one-year, incentive-based deal, a cheap price for a potential successor to Tom Brady, who had joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after two decades in New England. Newton missed only one start for New England — because he contracted the coronavirus — and completed 65.8 percent of his passes and rushed for 12 touchdowns. But the offense limped through the season because it lacked elite skill players. Still, the team re-signed him this spring to keep a proven veteran on the roster.

“He’s a hard worker and he’s a great person and when people learn him and understand him, I think he’s gong to bring a lot of energy to this team,” said Stephon Gilmore, a cornerback whom the Panthers recently acquired from the Patriots. Gilmore played with Newton in New England.

The Panthers, meanwhile, also faced trouble replacing Newton. They signed Teddy Bridgewater last season, but the quarterback performed poorly late in games, contributing to a 5-11 record. David Tepper, the team’s owner, was said to be interested in Deshaun Watson, too, before Watson faced lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct.

In April, the team traded for Darnold, believing the former Jets quarterback would succeed in a new environment with better coaching and offensive weapons. That theory worked initially as the Panthers won their first three games of the season. But they have lost five of the last six, and Darnold is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 11. On Oct. 24 against the Giants, Coach Matt Rhule benched Darnold in the fourth quarter. When asked this week about potentially signing Newton in the wake of Darnold’s injury, Rhule deflected.

“I won’t get into any hypotheticals. I’ll just probably just talk about the guys on the roster,” Rhule said.

Now, Newton is a guy on the roster.

“A healthy Cam Newton is a special player,” Rhule said.

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