Matt Rhule is the new head coach of the Carolina Panthers but what does his hiring mean for the future of quarterback Cam Newton?
Just when it seemed like Matt Rhule was destined for the Big Apple, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper made the move to get his guy. On Tuesday, the Panthers agreed to a seven-year contract worth up to $70 million that will make the former Baylor head coach the replacement for Ron Rivera on the sidelines in Carolina.
Though Rhule has only one year of NFL coaching experience (a Giants offensive line assistant in 2012) but his ability to turn around college programs has been nothing short of remarkable. In his first year with the Temple Owls in 2013, the team went 2-10. By his final season, Rhule’s Owls had registered back-to-back 10-win campaigns.
That trend continued as Rhule took over a Baylor program in shambles in the wake of their myriad of issues regarding sexual assault, among other things. And in his first season (2017), that showed as the Bears went 1-11. This year, Baylor was 11-3 at their final tally and had an outside shot at the College Football Playoff late in the regular season.
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Now heading to the NFL, Rhule will be the guy looking to set the culture with the Panthers and get a team that went 5-11 in the 2019 season and 7-9 the previous year back to competing in the NFC South and at a Super Bowl-caliber level. But if we’re talking about a coach who’s specialty appears to be rebuilding a culture, you have to wonder how Cam Newton fits into the equation.
After playing two games in the 2019 campaign — while dealing with a foot injury, it should be said — Newton’s season was effectively ended shortly thereafter as he eventually underwent surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury. His recovery thus far has been promising and Tepper has said he can still lead Carolina to a Super Bowl — but with Rhule coming in, does that tip the Panthers’ hands?
When backup quarterback Kyle Allen took over and was enjoying moderate success early on, many were ready to ship Newton out of Carolina that day. But Allen showed his warts in a big way as the season progressed and third-round rookie Will Grier struggled mightily in his showings over the final two weeks of the regular season. Thus, getting rid of Newton seemed a less enticing option.
Having said that, the Panthers can save north of $19 million by cutting or trading Newton this offseason, per Over The Cap. Moreover, Carolina’s lack of success this past season has earned them the No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, meaning they could be in position to move on a quarterback should they move on from Newton. Allen and Grier remain in-tow as well.
To be sure, this is merely speculation. However, hiring Rhule seems to indicate that the Cam Newton era with the Panthers is set to come into a close. No matter how impressive Rhule is as a coach and someone that can turn things around, doing so with a 30-year old quarterback starting to feel the effects of a large number of hits taken over his career is less ideal than doing so with a new, young quarterback that can be molded to fit the new culture being instilled by a new head coach.
Maybe that’s off base and Rhule is ready to lead the Newton redemption tour. However, looking at the coach that was hired and the situation with the quarterback, the writing might be on the wall for what the Panthers are doing at the position moving forward.