CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Just down the way from where Cam Newton’s name hangs in the Panthers’ locker room, team owner David Tepper reiterated the message he has been preaching since November when it comes to the franchise quarterback’s future with the team.
“I’ve said (the same thing) again and again about it,” Tepper said Tuesday. “It’s a question of how healthy his foot and he is otherwise, and that’s still the number one overwhelming thing, to see how healthy he is and how we can figure out when he’s healthy or not. And everything comes from that.”
Tepper was fielding questions on the elephant that will continue to be in any room the Panthers walk into until a decision is made about Newton or the team’s future at QB. This conversation came during the announcement of a $120,000 gift to elementary classrooms in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. 60 teachers were invited to Bank of America Stadium for the afternoon for the announcement and to meet Tepper and Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton.
The David A. Tepper Charitable Foundation, John M. Belk Endowment and Carolina Panthers Charities partnered to provide the donation through Classroom Central, which will provide new school supplies to 800 elementary classrooms in 17 Title I Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Giving back to schools and teachers is especially important for Tepper, whose mother was a teacher in Pittsburgh and often reached into her own pockets to pay for supplies.
But still, the questions about Newton were inevitable. Less than two weeks ago, Newton said several times that he “absolutely” believes he will be in a Panthers uniform in 2020, after meeting with Tepper and new head coach Matt Rhule.
“Absolutely... I had an unbelievable conversation with Marty Hurney the GM, David Tepper the owner, as well as Coach Rhule... I left that meeting inspired,” Newton said on the Tiki and Tierney radio show. “I told them, ‘you won’t find another person in that locker room with more to prove, not only to you, but I have to prove to myself.’”
When asked directly about Newton’s comments, Tepper declined to share the sentiment.
“I’m not a doctor. I’ve said it a million times, is he healthy? And he’s not a doctor, there’s a lot of different things that can happen. But first is he healthy,” Tepper said. “Tell me that and then we can talk.”
Newton is entering the last year of his deal with the Panthers. The team could save $19.1 million against the salary cap if it were to release or trade him. He missed all but two games last year due to a Lisfranc injury in his left foot that required surgery in December. He originally suffered the injury during the team’s Week 3 preseason game in New England and aggravated it during the second game of the regular season — against the Buccaneers.
Prior to that, he has had two shoulder surgeries. His shoulder injury especially impacted him during the second half of the 2018 season.
Since meeting with local media in mid-November, Tepper, former head coach Ron Rivera and current head coach Matt Rhule have all reiterated that everything with Newton comes down to his health.
The team is entering a phase of rebuilding with linebacker Luke Kuechly retiring this offseason and the Panthers parting ways with Greg Olsen, despite the veteran tight end expressing a desire to remain in Carolina.
The Panthers’ continued uncertainty about Newton leaves open the possibility of drafting a quarterback for the second year in a row or looking for one in free agency. While high profile names like Philip Rivers and Tom Brady will be available, looking for a somewhat cheaper or potentially longer-term option like Teddy Bridgewater would better fit Carolina’s rebuild.
Newton’s fit as part of that rebuild is a large factor in his future as well.
“We’ve got a little bit of a road to hoe, we’ve got to figure out what we’re doing with players and who’s healthy or not healthy, we’ll figure all that out,” Tepper said. “It’s kind of exciting, we have something that makes sense to people that’s a little bit different than everyone else has and I think people should be excited about it.”