Cam Newton is back in Carolina. Now, there’s only one question surrounding him: Will he be the Panthers’ starting quarterback again?
Newton left the Panthers after the 2019 NFL season. Carolina wanted to move in a new direction at quarterback while Newton wanted to continue starting. However, after the Panthers endured a season and a half of subpar play from Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold, Newton is back with the team that made him the No. 1 selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Newton spent the 2020 season as the Patriots’ starter and re-signed with the team to presumably stay in that role. But then came Mac Jones, and after the rookie won the starting job, the Patriots opted to part ways with Newton. He has remained a free agent since.
Now, Newton is being thrown right back into the fire and will look to right the ship for a reeling Panthers team. Here’s how he will fit in with the Panthers and what fans can expect from him for the rest of 2021.
MORE: Why the Panthers signed Cam Newton for a second act in Carolina
Panthers QB depth chart
Sam Darnold has topped the Panthers’ quarterback depth chart every week this season, but he’s now out four to six weeks with a broken shoulder. And given his recent performance, there was no guarantee that he would hold onto the starting job. That will be a topic for when Darnold returns, but as long as he’s out, here’s what the Panthers’ QB depth chart will look like.
1. Cam Newton
At first, it seemed like Newton was going to sign on to be a backup for the Panthers who could start if their quarterbacks continued to struggle. However, the Panthers gave him a sizeable contract, especially considering that we’re at the midpoint of the 2021 NFL season.
Newton will make up to $10 million for the rest of the season, according to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That’s starter money.
Source: The #Panthers are giving QB Cam Newton a 1-year deal worth up to $10M for the rest of year…includes $4.5M fully guaranteed and $1.5M roster bonus.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 11, 2021
So, it’s fair to assume that Newton will be the starter — provided that he can get up to speed on coach Matt Rhule’s offense quickly enough.
Newton provides something that this quarterback room desperately needs: starting experience. He has started 139 games during his career and has played at an MVP level in the past. His passing ability has regressed in recent years, as he has dealt with shoulder injuries, but he can serve as a stabilizing force in case things go South with Walker.
Newton, 32, completed 65.8 percent of his passes and posted a 7-8 record for the Patriots last year. He threw for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions but added 592 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Newton has solid mobility but will need to prove that he can throw consistently downfield. That’s something that has eluded him in recent years. Perhaps extra time to rest his throwing shoulder — which has been banged up in recent years — will prove beneficial.
MORE: Why did the Patriots release Cam Newton?
2. P.J. Walker
The Panthers have carried only two quarterbacks on their roster for most of the 2021 NFL season, so it seemed like P.J. Walker would get a chance to start after Darnold’s injury. But with Newton joining the fold on a massive contract, it seems more likely that Walker will remain a backup — unless he has to start for a week while Newton gets up to speed on the offense.
Walker went undrafted out of Temple in 2017. He played under Rhule with the Owls and spent three years with the Colts from 2017 to 2019. He never saw regular-season action.
In 2020, Walker left the NFL to join the XFL. He played for the Houston Roughnecks and led them to a 5-0 record before the league ceased operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He posted 1,338 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, both good for league-high marks, and threw just four interceptions during his time in the XFL.
Walker made one start for the Panthers in 2020. He completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 258 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a 20-0 win against Detroit. Overall, he has 401 passing yards and a touchdown during his NFL career, but he has struggled with accuracy (49.3 percent completion rate) and interceptions (five).
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3. Matt Barkley
Barkley has carved out a career for himself as an NFL journeyman. He hasn’t been particularly impressive when on the field, but he has put together some decent starts during his career.
The 31-year-old quarterback was a former fourth-round pick by the Eagles in 2013. The Panthers are his eighth different NFL team and he has posted 2,699 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions during his career. He was a fine emergency backup signing, but he will be on the bottom of the Panthers’ depth chart and may be gone altogether if Darnold returns this season.