Cam is back: What history says about Carolina’s unprecedented move to re-sign their former franchise quarterback

By Richard Walker

The Carolina Panthers gained national attention on Wednesday with its decision to sign free agent Cam Newton.

Cam Newton (right) shown with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper on the team’s twitter account on Thursday.

Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, had guided the Panthers to 68 regular season wins and three playoff wins in nine seasons with the franchise. The 2015 NFL MVP, Newton was released before the 2020 season and he played one year with the New England Patriots before they released him before the start of this season.

Newton’s return comes one day after starting quarterback Sam Darnold was placed on injured reserve with an incomplete fracture of his right shoulder blade. The injury could keep Darnold out of action for four to six weeks for the 4-5 Panthers.

Also on Wednesday, Rhule said the team would “continue to explore all options” at quarterback and when asked specifically Newton, Rhule said he “didn’t want to discuss hypotheticals.”

Well by midday Thursday, those “hypotheticals” were reality as Newton’s signing was announced, he was pictured with Panthers owner David Tepper on the team’s twitter account with the phrase “Together again,” and the scoreboard at Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium had “HE’S BACK!” on their scoreboard.

But can Newton’s return be a success?

There’s no precedent for it as there have been 26 quarterback picked No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft since 1970 and none of those players have played for their drafting team left and then returned.

Eleven of those No. 1 overall picks, including four active players, played for only one team.

The all-time regular season winner among the No. 1 picks is Peyton Manning, who went 186-79 for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos and won a Super Bowl for each franchise, including a Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina with Newton as quarterback.

The other top regular season winners, in order, are John Elway (148), Eli Manning (117), Terry Bradshaw (107), Alex Smith (99), Drew Bledsoe (98), Troy Aikman (94), Carson Palmer (92), Vinny Testaverde (90), Newton (75), Matthew Stafford (74) and Jim Plunkett (72).

And Bradshaw (4), Aikman (3), Plunkett (2), Elway (2), Peyton Manning (2) and Eli Manning (2) won Super Bowls and Bledsoe and Newton also advanced to the Super Bowl.

When Newton was released by the Panthers, he was first in Panthers’ history in passing yards (29,041), third in rushing yards (4,806) and fourth in scoring (352 points).

What also is true is that starting with a 2017 wild card playoff loss at New Orleans, the Panthers lost 11 of Newton’s last 17 starts at quarterback. And last season with New England, the Patriots went 7-8 for the franchise’s first losing record since 2000 and it missed the postseason for the first time since 2008.

It’s uncertain whether Newton would play in his first game back at Carolina as P.J. Walker was earlier announced as the starter for Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. game at the Arizona Cardinals.

What also is certain is that the Panthers likely will give Newton the opportunity to play soon; Carolina returns home to meet the Washington Football Team coached by former Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Nov. 21.