The Panthers are effectively out of the playoffs and they’re opting to protect their starting quarterback with two games to go. Cam Newton and his sore shoulder will head to the bench and Taylor Heinicke will take over as the starter for the rest of the year, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).
Technically, the Panthers have a path to the postseason, but it would require a whole lot of favorable breaks in addition to two more wins. As the New York Times playoff tree shows, Carolina would need to win out and gain the cooperation of at least five other outcomes in order to even have a chance at extending their season. With less than a 1% chance of that happening, the Panthers will not risk the health of their franchise quarterback.
Newton, 29, captured the league’s MVP trophy in 2015 and led the Panthers to a Super Bowl 50 appearance. Since then, Newton and the Panthers have not been able to find the same level of success. The 2018 season was up-and-down for Newton & Co., even though the QB will finish out with a career high 67.9% completion percentage.
The Panthers inked Newton to a five-year, $103.8MM extension in the summer of 2015, so it only makes sense for them to protect their investment. Newton is set to count for a $23.2MM cap figure next year and a $21.1MM figure in 2020. However, next year will be a pivotal year for Newton and his future in Carolina. The Panthers can escape the final year of his deal with just $2MM in dead money, so finances would not prevent them from a reboot under center.
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