Should Panthers sign Kaepernick if this Cam Newton injury — or the next — is serious?

Should Panthers sign Kaepernick if this Cam Newton injury — or the next — is serious?
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left and safety Eric Reid (now with the Panthers) kneeled together during the playing of the national anthem in Charlotte before a game with Carolina. (Source: Jeff Siner)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Scott Fowler//The Charlotte Observer) - No matter what the exact diagnosis turns out to be on Cam Newton’s latest injury, the fact that the quarterback got hurt in his first quarter of live action in eight months is a major concern for Carolina.

Because even if this injury is minor — the team website reported that initial X-rays had “come back clean” Thursday night but that Newton would be further evaluated — what about the next one?

The Panthers aren’t prepared for life without Newton, who sustained a foot injury on the 11th play of his preseason Thursday night against New England.

Backup quarterbacks Kyle Allen, Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke haven’t looked ready to shoulder the load of an NFL starting quarterback. Too many mistakes. Too few points.

That’s why the team must think seriously about signing another quarterback if Newton’s injury is significant in any way. And I’d agree with Eric Reid on this point, too — if Newton is going to miss much time at all, either for this injury or for the next one — it’s time for the Panthers to consider signing Colin Kaepernick.

Reid wasn’t even aware after the game that Newton had gotten hurt. And he was careful to say in the locker room that he was advocating Kaepernick’s signing only if the Panthers’ franchise quarterback wasn’t able to return right away.

Reid said: “Colin could help every locker room. Obviously, I hope that Cam’s injury is minor. If it is more significant and will require him being out for a longer period of time, then definitely Colin should come here and help us. ... We’ll see what happens. We won’t put the cart before the horse. But again, Colin could come into any NFL locker room right now and help that team.”

Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Reid and some others believe the NFL has blackballed him since the quarterback started publicly campaigning for social justice and racial equity and, most controversially, kneeling during the national anthem (which Reid still does before every game).

If Kaepernick joined the Panthers, it would be a huge story. And looking at things from a football standpoint, it’s uncertain whether it would work out. In Kaepernick’s last season, he went 1-10 as a starting quarterback for a bad San Francisco 49ers team. Although Kaepernick works out five times a week, according to Reid, he’s still a long way removed from the dual-threat quarterback whose 49ers roughed up the Panthers in Charlotte in the 2013 postseason.

Still, the Panthers can’t stand pat if Newton goes down at any point for any length of time.

The team had nine possessions Thursday night in an offensively dismal 10-3 exhibition loss to the Patriots. Eight of those nine Carolina possessions ended in punts. The ninth one would have, too, but for a New England penalty during a punt that sent Carolina’s offense back out onto the field. Carolina only could manage seven first downs and 99 total yards the entire game — the sort of numbers that an overmatched high school team posts. New England had 22 first downs and 316 yards.

Although Allen won his only start last season in Week 17 against New Orleans, he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the Panthers’ three preseason games despite starting two of them. Allen said Thursday night he would “be prepared” if he had to start the Sept. 8 regular-season opener vs. the L.A. Rams, but his August hasn’t given Panthers fans much confidence about that.

Grier has looked like a rookie — he has thrown two passes that resulted in TDs, but one of them was to the other team. Heinicke has looked the best of the three backups in limited work, but the Panthers have phased him out of practices and games to a point where it’s obvious that he’s going to need a big break to make the squad at all.

So much of the season rides on Newton, as usual. Thursday night was supposed to give us a good look at his arm under duress. Newton threw the ball well in warmups and in his limited work during the game.

But the quarterback got sacked on his fifth play from scrimmage when tight end Chris Manhertz missed a block on a Patriots linebacker, and then he got sacked again on that fateful 11th snap — a third-and-10 play when no one was open. On that play, Newton darted around, avoiding the sack for a few seconds, before going down in a heap of bodies.

Newton walked off the field under his own power, but he was grimacing in pain on the bench as medical personnel examined his left foot. He made it to the team bus under his own power after the game had ended — in a walking boot — and wasn’t made available for comment. Cornerback Donte Jackson did have a brief conversation with Newton after the game.

“When you see him go down, the first impression is not to panic because you know the type of player he is,” Jackson said. “He’s going to tell you he’s all right. ... He seemed pretty good — his normal self. He’s a tough guy … At the end of the day, he’s going to be back fighting for his team.”

That’s the hope. A healthy Newton vs. an unhealthy Newton this season might be the difference between 11-5 and 5-11.

But even if the Panthers declare that Newton is fine and will start the Rams game Sept. 8, everyone is going to hold their breath with No. 1 for a long while.

The Panthers’ season has gotten more problematic no matter the extent of this injury, to a point where it seems a challenge at times to even put one foot in front of the other.