The Panthers are “cautiously optimistic” they dodged a bullet with franchise quarterback Cam Newton’s foot injury Thursday night.
Newton, who left the Panthers’ game Thursday against the Patriots with a foot injury, was undergoing more tests Friday as the team held its collective breath.
General manager Marty Hurney offered the glass-half-full assessment late Friday morning about what he described as a “mid-foot sprain” in Newton’s left foot (via The Athletic): “We are cautiously optimistic he will be ready for Week 1.”
From Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney: “Cam Newton has a mid-foot sprain in his left foot, and we are cautiously optimistic he will be ready for week one.”
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 23, 2019
Some 12 hours earlier, Hurney was hopeful that the injury, sustained on a first-quarter sack, would be the best-case scenario.
“We’re hoping it’s not too bad,” Hurney said late Thursday on the team’s local radio postgame show. “We’ll find out more (Friday). But I hope it’s not too bad.”
X-rays of Newton’s lower left leg at Gillette Stadium came back clean and this much most agreed on: The injury didn’t appear severe, apparently proved out by Friday’s further examinations, but sprained feet are tricky. Even though the team is cautiously optimistic, there has to be concern about how quickly Newton, who was sacked twice Thursday, can be 100 percent.
Proof? A headline from the Charlotte Observer read: “If Cam Newton’s foot injury is serious, the Panthers’ entire season is in peril.”
And the speculation in the column was couched in no less urgent terms:
But although this didn’t look terrible — and maybe it won’t be, and the Panthers were whispering unofficially late Thursday night they didn’t think it would be — foot injuries don’t have to look bad initially to turn out poorly. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and many other NFL players could tell you that.
Hopefully, that’s not what happened here. Hopefully the Panthers were just being very careful and in a few days Newton will be throwing again in practice. (Newton wasn’t available to talk after the game, having already left the Panthers locker room before the game ended).
But we also may not know the answers to these two questions for days or even a couple of weeks:
1. Will Newton be well enough to start Sept. 8 in the home opener vs. the L.A. Rams?
2. If he can’t, is Kyle Allen ready to play? Or in that case, should the Panthers sign another quarterback like Colin Kaepernick as an alternative (a route that Panthers safety Eric Reid said late Thursday that he would advocate if — and only if — Newton’s injury is significant).
Pro Football Talk noted pointedly that the Panthers’ current backup QBs — in order, Allen, Will Grier, Taylor Heinicke — “don’t rise to the level of an otherwise talented roster.”
Suffice it to say the sight of Newton, 30, leaving Gillette Stadium in a walking boot was enough to cause some stomach churning in the Carolinas.
Cam Newton was seen leaving the stadium in a walking boot. pic.twitter.com/vQ0PRGIMA0
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) August 23, 2019
And that’s part of why Kaepernick’s name came up. But there’s also a side note of history with the Panthers.
Carolina defensive back Eric Reid kneeled during the national anthem with Kaepernick when they were 49ers teammates, and new Panthers owner David Tepper signed Reid when other NFL teams wouldn’t — and then gave him a lucrative extension.
Eric Reid says IF Cam is hurt badly, Kaepernick could and should definitely “come in and help us.” Again, he stressed the IF and said he hoped Cam was fine.
— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) August 23, 2019
That was enough in the hours soon after Newton’s injury to lead to the speculation, to the point Yahoo Sports envisioned how Kaepernick, a Super Bowl quarterback, could fit in the Panthers offense: “Kaepernick isn’t the same quarterback as Newton, but the Panthers have designed plays to feature Newton’s running ability and that has always been a strength for Kaepernick. Even a short-term gig for Kaepernick could open other doors. He hasn’t gotten a shot as teams have signed countless quarterbacks with much thinner resumes. Kaepernick is 31 years old.”
Other options on the picked-over free agent QB market are less appealing and certainly don’t measure up to Kaepernick — or Newton, who threw for 3,395 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season as he battled shoulder issues that were surgically repaired in the offseason.
In fact, all eyes in camp have been on his throwing, and Newton looked sharp in the early going Thursday in his first action of the preseason until …
This injury isn’t something the Panthers envisioned, although they clearly knew the risks that preseason play brings.
He sat out the first two preseason games, and he always sits out the fourth. Why not, some mused, sit out the third one, too?
Said Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (the Cam Newton of the defense, if you will), who has played about one quarter this entire preseason: “I think it’s a delicate balance between making sure that your players are ready to go for the regular season, but also that they get enough reps at game speed.”
With that, though, comes risk — and now uncertainty. Or as the Observer put it: “Cam Newton is hurt, again — and no one knows exactly what will come next.”
The early news is encouraging, but the days’ events show just how reliant the Panthers, as currently constructed, on Newton, who hasn’t been able to stay completely healthy.