The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone. Most of the top free agents are off the board. Most, if not all, teams are moving the final pieces around to assemble their 90-man roster they plan on heading into training camp (or whatever iteration is possible by July). And yet, Cam Newton, former MVP, remains unsigned. He has the Carolina Panthers to blame for that.
The Panthers released Newton on March 24, nearly two weeks after the official start of free agency. While it's impossible to be sure about anything in such times, it seems quite likely that releasing Newton closer to the first day of free agency would have significantly increased his chances of finding a place to at least fight for a starting gig. Carolina held on to Newton in hopes someone would trade for him, but when the market failed to materialize, they cut bait entirely and ate the cap hit in releasing him. That was probably the smart football move, but it came at a cost to Newton, who will now probably have to wait another three months before signing a contract.
The Panthers told reporters as late as the NFL Combine they planned on sticking with Newton, and then promptly signed Teddy Bridgewater. They released Newton a day after officially announcing Bridgewater's signing, but had granted Newton permission to seek a trade nearly a week prior. They were also, presumably, in discussions with Bridgewater since they were allowed to contact him. The delay between deciding they were moving on from Newton and actually doing so sunk any chance of him getting signed before training camp.
All the way back in March, the world wasn't quite shut down yet. We were getting there, but everything everywhere came grinding to a halt about a week or so after free agency began. Newton comes with a lot of talent, but also two primary red flags: an extensive injury history and question marks (fair or not) about his maturity and ability to lead. Both of those issues could be addressed by in-person meetings with doctors and representatives, a necessity for any team who would consider bringing in Newton. While Tom Brady did not meet in person with the Bucs or their team doctors when he signed with Tampa Bay right after free agency opened, things were still close enough to normal that teams felt comfortable signing off on physicals from third-party doctors. By the time someone with Newton's risk factor hit the open market, that wasn't the case.
Then you add in all the quarterbacks that were acquired in those opening weeks of free agency. Brady went to Tampa Bay, Philip Rivers went to Indianapolis, Nick Foles went to Chicago, and Ryan Tannehill stayed in Tennessee. Newton was always going to be a risky signing, but by the time he was available, his options were already severely limited.
The Panthers didn't exactly nail the situation after a failed attempt to spin the narrative in the media, but the sequence of decisions makes sense at a football level. They just screwed Newton in the process.
It's no sure thing he would be employed right now had they cut him as soon as they came to the decision he wouldn't be a part of the team's plans moving forward, but it would have increased his chances significantly. Now, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league must wait patiently until an opportunity presents itself -- and that may be a long time coming.