The Carolina Panthers Are Foolishly Providing Their Peers a Free Lesson on How to Flush $40 Million Down the Drain

The Carolina Panthers continue to make strange decisions involving the most important position in sports. After all, considering they cut ties with Cam Newton after the 2019 season, it seems almost unbelievable that they resorted to bringing him back on a one-year deal that carries a maximum value of $10 million.

Then again, perhaps desperate times truly do call for desperate measures.

Ultimately, Newton’s return for a second tour of duty shows just how poorly the Panthers have handled the quarterback spot. And when you dig deeper into the numbers, it’s stunning to see the amount of money the franchise has committed to players who clearly aren’t franchise-caliber.

In fact, the Panthers are giving the rest of the NFL a free lesson on how flush $40 million down the drain.

The Cam Newton signing speaks volumes about the sad state of the quarterback position in Carolina

Despite spending the first half of the season sitting idle as a free agent, Cam Newton surprisingly received another chance to start for an NFL team. With Sam Darnold set to miss four to six weeks with a shoulder injury, the Panthers apparently had such little faith in former XFL star P.J. Walker and journeyman backup Matt Barkley that they felt compelled to give their ex-franchise quarterback almost $5 million guaranteed roughly midway through November.

Of course, Newton remained unsigned for months largely because of his lackluster 2020 campaign.

Due partly to a lack of adequate talent at wide receiver and tight end, the 2015 NFL MVP only completed eight touchdown passes in his first and only season with the New England Patriots. Newton struggled to grasp Josh McDaniels’ system, and even though he earned respect from teammates and coaches for his work ethic and leadership, he didn’t live up to expectations on the field.

Still, that didn’t stop Carolina from signing the 32-year-old to a rather player-friendly contract. However, while Newton’s comeback story may spark some excitement among fans, it also reflects the dire state of the quarterback depth chart. Unless he magically transforms back into Superman, he seems like a short-term fix to a problem that has yet to be solved.

And by making a costly run of foolish decisions, the Panthers are providing a valuable lesson for their peers.

The Panthers are foolishly giving NFL teams a free lesson on how to completely waste $40 million

Somehow, the Panthers went from having Newton under center to trying to replace him with multiple options to asking him to save their season. And the front office deserves tremendous criticism for how it has handled the position over the last two offseasons.

After all, it’s almost comical how much money Carolina has committed to make zero progress at finding a long-term answer at quarterback. At this point, other teams better pay attention to the free lesson the Panthers are providing on the financial implications of getting it wrong at the most critical position on the field.

Nick Korte, who projects compensatory draft picks for Over the Cap, shared a tweet highlighting the costly ramifications of betting big on Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold. After cutting ties with Bridgewater this spring, the Panthers are responsible for $7,062,500 of his 2021 salary, as well as $10 million in dead money from his signing bonus.

In addition, they’re paying Darnold a $4,774,685 salary this season. To make matters worse, they picked up his fully guaranteed fifth-year option, which puts his 2022 salary at $18,585,000.

In total, the Panthers have $40,422,185 committed to a veteran who no longer plays for them and a reclamation project who appears on the verge of never starting again. The harsh reality is they’ve done a masterful job tying up financial resources on two players who ultimately won’t fulfill their need for a franchise quarterback.

The future would look much brighter if the franchise had gone in a different direction during the 2021 NFL Draft

It may seem like rubbing salt in the wound, but the truth hurts. And in the case of the Panthers, they undoubtedly missed out on opportunities to address the quarterback position for the long haul.

Instead of trading draft picks and picking up Darnold’s option, why didn’t they build around a young prospect like Justin Fields or Mac Jones? The Panthers owned the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which put them in line to land either quarterback. Yet instead of going with the physically gifted Fields or the pro-ready Jones, they took cornerback Jaycee Horn. He could develop into a top-flight defender, but Carolina clearly would be in a better position with either first-year signal-caller.

Ultimately, it’s hard to get excited about the future of a franchise that seems to sway in different directions on a weekly basis. Prior to the Nov. 2 trade deadline, it looked like Deshaun Watson could come to Carolina.

Now, Matt Rhule will depend on a washed-up version of Cam Newton for the remainder of the 2021 season.

As for what lies ahead in 2022?

The Panthers probably don’t even know the answer to that question.

What we do know, though, is they’ve already committed to paying the perennially disappointing Sam Darnold almost $19 million.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference. All contract data courtesy of Spotrac.

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