Moving on from a franchise cornerstone is rarely an easy decision. And if you need confirmation of that, look no further than Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney, who said on Monday that releasing Cam Newton was “one of the most difficult decisions.”
The Panthers have made a number of those the past few months, one of which brought a culture change with the hiring of coach Matt Rhule. At the center of Rhule’s new operation is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has the challenging task of building a bond with the Panthers fanbase after Newton’s exit.
On the surface, switching from the oft-injured, soon-to-be 31-year-old to the younger Bridgewater appeared like it had more to do with Newton’s ability to keep playing. Rhule made it clear during a video conference call on Wednesday that’s not the case.
“I have no doubt that he will play well,” Rhule said of Newton, per ESPN. “He is a great quarterback and we have all seen the things that he has done. I just think as we move forward we thought this was the right time for us. We saw the opportunity to get Teddy and really felt like he was the right fit for us.
“We went ahead and made that call, not an easy call, but one we thought was the best one moving forward.”
In Carolina, under first-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Bridgewater brings familiarity, having spent time with Brady when he was an offensive assistant for the Saints in 2018.
During an offseason where teams are unable to conduct physicals — a setback that has Newton’s future in limbo — or hold offseason workouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that relationship is even more valuable. Rhule harped on just how important that was when making the decision to move on.
“I don’t want to make it too much about Cam in a negative way, because I have so much respect for him and the player that he is and the player that he will definitely continue to be,” Rhule said. “To me, it was just, at the end of the day, you have to make decision about what are we going to do moving forward.
“We felt like this was the time to go in this direction and bring Teddy on. His relationship with Joe, knowing the offense, the things that he has done in this offense just made sense to us.”
Although he’s unable to build chemistry with his new teammates for the foreseeable future, Bridgewater is coming into his new situation already having a rapport with his OC. Carolina is banking on that being a big help as he looks to reclaim viable QB1 status after a solid 2019 run.