With that simple statement by the NFL Commissioner, the face of the Panthers was set in stone, and the path of Charlotte’s franchise was set down before them, with no one to predict whether it ends in a Super Bowl or routine failure.
Newton is just one quarterback of the pantheon of first-overall QB picks since the early 2000s, an exclusive group including Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams), Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions), and Eli Manning (drafted by the San Diego Chargers before a trade to the NY Giants). However, this collection also claims such infamous names as Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers) and JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders), quarterbacks who took on the burden of leading a franchise and collapsed under the weight.
Tradition dictates that Newton will be thrust into on-the-field action earlier than most rookies, and perhaps as early as the first snap of Game 1.
For the time being, though, second-year quarterback Jimmy Clausen holds the title of starter, given the likelihood that QB Matt Moore will depart for another NFL team. Clausen only won one of the ten games he started, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns as well as inciting the ire of agonized (and ever-dwindling) fans.
However, when a team invests as much in a player as the Panthers did with Newton, it’s rare that the potential talent offered by the team’s new icon sits on the bench for Game 1.
Speaking of ‘icon’, Newton was quoted pre-draft by Sports Illustrated as saying he sees himself “not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon,” raising significant questions about his work ethic and maturity. Despite these setbacks, the Panthers organization seems to have assessed Newton in a way that makes the Carolina top executives comfortable.
Both before and after the draft, one of the most common terms used to describe the Auburn product was “risk-reward”.
Some analysts have compared Newton’s style of play to that of Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers), and equated his ‘freakish’ athleticism to the skill shown by Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles). Then again, both have been punished by the league for off-the-field conduct issues in the past two years.
The ‘risk’ side of the coin is the spectre of JaMarcus Russell.
Nevertheless, the Panthers have crowned their new champion, and his name is Cam Newton. The labor dispute between the league and the players is one of many obstacles between Newton and NFL success — it’s possible that the lockout will take away a chunk of early-season games, as well as the training camp necessary to fit Newton into the system — but the Carolina Panthers have emphatically thrust a new contender into the NFL, and they can only hope that they’ve jumped into the ranks of the contenders.