Carolina Panthers GM finally explains the team’s process of releasing Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers GM finally explains the team’s process of releasing Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Source: AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - The Panthers made a franchise-altering move when they moved on from Cam Newton, but once the decision was made to let him go, the process happened quickly.

Almost four weeks after the Panthers made it publicly known that they and Newton’s representatives were seeking a trade for the quarterback, general manager Marty Hurney on Monday shed perspective on how everything transpired with Newton eventually being released March 24.

The decision to move on from the franchise’s quarterback of nine years wasn’t easy, especially for Hurney, who drafted Newton, the franchise’s leader in multiple passing and rushing categories, first overall in 2011 out of Auburn.

“Obviously it was, you know, tough. You have to make very difficult decisions every year and this was probably one of the most difficult,” Hurney said in a teleconference, his first public comments since new coach Matt Rhule was introduced Jan. 8. “I mean, I drafted Cam, and we all know everything he’s brought to the organization both on and off the field. So it was extremely difficult.”

Newton, who missed all but two games in 2019 due to a Lisfranc injury in his left foot which he had surgery on in December, is yet to sign with a new team. Releasing him cost the Panthers just $2 million in dead salary cap space. He was owed $21.1 million in the final year of his contract if on the roster.

Hurney shared that they had only informed Newton’s representatives that they were seeking a trade partner a day before it became public. The team announced the news March 17. Later that day, they agreed to terms with their new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.

“We put a lot of time, thought, communication into every decision we make. As soon as we make those decisions, we act on them,” Hurney said. “So, as soon as we (decided to move on from Newton), I called Cam’s representatives and told them that we were going to start calling teams about seeing if there was trade interest in Cam.

“Once you know we spent time doing that, and seeing that teams were interested and we got to a point where we thought that it’s really, you know, it didn’t seem like we were going to be able to make a trade in the near future and we thought that it was in the best interest for everybody to release him.”

Newton has yet to publicly comment much on what has taken place over the last month other than sharing a few thoughts on Instagram, but a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Observer that Newton wished to remain in Carolina. He posted his interpretation of the team saying it “gave permission” to Newton’s representatives to seek a trade a partner.

“Stop with the word play. (I) never asked for it,” Newton wrote. “Please do not try and play me, or manipulate the narrative and act like I wanted this; you forced me into this.”

He also later said in a video on Instagram that “they gave me up on me,” not specifically mentioning the team.

Hurney shared that both he and team owner David Tepper spoke to Newton personally about their decision, but the general manager declined to comment on the specifics of their conversation.

He also declined to get into specifics about the decision-making in relation to the quarterback’s health and ability to pass a physical.

“A lot of thought and communication went into it. And once we made that (decision), we let Cam know immediately and, you know, these are all these difficult decisions that have their own timeline, each one of them. And you make them for reasons ... and obviously a lot plays into every one of those decisions as it did this one,” Hurney said. “I just think that you guys know how much we respect Cam and again, I appreciate everything he’s given and it was extremely difficult, but that’s where we ended up.”

The biggest trade the Panthers did pull off this offseason was sending guard Trai Turner to the Chargers in exchange for left tackle Russell Okung in February.

Hurney spoke for the first time about the move, explaining that the Chargers originally emailed him with a proposal and that they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring in an experienced left tackle like Okung.

“I actually got an email one night, actually after a report came (about Turner’s availability), and they proposed a trade, with Russell for Trai. Obviously, the opportunity to get a left tackle that’s played at Russell’s level … we were very familiar with him,” Hurney said. “Trai’s been a great player for us, but the ability to get an experienced left tackle, somebody that can help bring Greg along.

We think Greg (Little) is very talented and has a chance to be a very good player, and maybe have some position flexibility.”

The move came as a bit of surprise for a variety of reasons. It put the future of Little, also a left tackle, in doubt, after the team traded up to select him in the second-round of the draft last year. He dealt with two concussions and an ankle injury during the 2019 season, playing in four games. There was also speculation that the team could move him to a different position on the line, despite his significant experience at left tackle, which Hurney insinuated could come to be with the comment that he has some “position flexibility.” But the general manager also said he views the move as an opportunity for Little to grow, while giving the line depth.

Said Hurney: “One of the goals of this offseason, and we have plenty of them, is to try to improve the depth of our offensive line and we thought being able to get a left tackle with the ability that Russell Okung has was just — it was very hard to trade Trai, but we thought that was a decision that we wanted to make in the big-picture plan of our offensive line.

“We have all the confidence in the world in Greg, and it just gives him time to come in and get with a guy who has played in this league at a high level for a long time and develop with Greg.”