CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- News the Carolina Panthers were changing direction at quarterback didn't break as smoothly as the team might have hoped.
Newton repeatedly said he wanted to remain with the Panthers as he rehabbed from December surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury that sidelined him the final 14 games of 2019. However, moving on from the greatest quarterback in Carolina history needed to happen for an organization in a complete rebuild mode under first-year coach Matt Rhule.
Turning the offense over to Bridgewater on a three-year deal worth about $20 million per year made the most sense, particularly with offseason workouts postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Let’s look at why:
Joe Brady reunion
Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady has gotten a lot of credit for helping LSU quarterback Joe Burrow win the Heisman Trophy last season.
Before going to LSU, Brady spent two years with the Saints and worked with Bridgewater as an offensive assistant in 2018.
Brady knows what Bridgewater can do and Bridgewater knows what Brady wants and expects, which is important because nobody knows when coaches will be allowed to work with players this spring.
So whenever offseason workouts begin, Bridgewater will have a full understanding of Brady’s offense -- a mixture of New Orleans’ West Coast and spread schemes. That in itself gives him an edge over incumbents Kyle Allen and Will Grier, Carolina’s backup quarterbacks.
Don’t be surprised if the Panthers add XFL quarterback P.J. Walker, who played for Rhule at Temple, for depth and to compete for a backup spot.
Bridgewater doesn’t make the spectacular plays Newton was known for when healthy, but he’s consistent and more of the pinpoint passer Brady wants. He completed 67.9% of his passes last season in going 5-0 for the Saints and has a career completion percentage of 65.2.
Newton topped 60% in completions in only one season -- 67.9% in 2018 -- and has a career percentage of 59.6.
Age and money
Bridgewater is 27. Newton will turn 31 in May.
Newton was in the last year of his contract, and the Panthers had shown no interest in an extension for a quarterback with his history of injuries and hits -- most in the NFL since 2011.
There were concerns about Newton’s mobility coming off the Lisfranc surgery and about how long his throwing shoulder would hold up after two surgeries since 2016.
Bridgewater overcame a gruesome, non-contact knee injury while with the Minnesota Vikings during the 2016 training camp. However, he has recovered fully.
His body is relatively fresh, so there’s reasonable optimism for long-term success.
Nobody knows how long Newton’s body will hold up, though his social media posts indicate he’s recovering well.
Then there’s the money. Newton has a cap value of $21 million this season and likely will demand a deal of $30 million-plus per season if he successfully makes it through 2020 as a starter somewhere. That would put a strain on the plans of the Panthers, who still don't have a lot of cap space.
By trading or cutting Newton, the Panthers would clear $19.1 million in cap space this season with only $2 million in dead money. And let’s be clear: Even if a trade doesn’t happen, Newton won’t be on the roster this fall.
In Bridgewater, the Panthers have a starter with a 22-12 record for the next three years at a low price. His projected salary of $20 million doesn’t rank in the top 15 salaries for quarterbacks.
He’s a bargain.
Bridging the gap
Even if Bridgewater doesn’t work out, he’s a nice bridge between the start of the rebuild and the long-term solution without a costly long-term deal.
Look, the Panthers likely won’t be successful this season or next in terms of wins. Rhule, hired because he’s considered a great rebuilder, went 2-10 his first season at Temple and 1-11 his first season at Baylor.
He won 10-plus games in his third season at both stops.
So having Bridgewater lessens the pressure to take a quarterback with the No. 7 pick, although it doesn’t eliminate it. If the Panthers were to get a first-round pick in exchange for Newton, which seems unlikely, they potentially could package a deal to move to No. 1 and reunite Brady with Burrow.
He also gives Carolina the option to trade back and pick up much-needed draft picks since the team didn't get any compensatory picks this season. They perhaps could move back and draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.
And if the Panthers are a disaster in 2020 under Bridgewater, they would be in play for next year’s likely No. 1 pick, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
In the end, Newton might not be happy about the way things transpired on Tuesday, but the Panthers aren’t complaining.