At this point I think it's safe to say that Cam Newton starting his first season is a matter of 'when', not 'if'. The Carolina Panthers are approaching this season like the 2010 St. Louis Rams in terms of wanting to try and find a veteran QB, but ultimately not seeing many good options. At this point there's a dearth of decent veteran QBs available in free agency. There are scores of teams in want of a veteran QB, and from this standpoint serving as caretaker to Cam Newton and the 2-14 Panthers is one of the least desirable landing spots for a veteran.
The following is a list of teams who have been linked either openly, or privately as wanting a veteran QB: Carolina, Arizona, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Washington, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tennessee. That's nine teams, and really the market is very, very small.
After the jump we'll look at what veteran options will be available, and then move into talking what the Panthers will need to do to allow Cam Newton to have success under center immediately.
For the purposes of this discussion it's apropos to use the 2010 free agency framework to discuss potential targets, at least until we get some more information from the legal side of things. According to this list from NFL.com here are the potential QBs available, should the league follow the 2010 rules, their 2010 team will be in parentheses:
Okay, so of that list who inspires you? Who would be worth getting for the Panthers? Now, I think at this point it's also safe to add Donovan McNabb to the list, because it's safe to assume he will be cut by Washington. Now lets cross reference this list with what's being said in league circles:
- Marc Bulger has been linked to the Arizona Cardinals
- Kerry Collins and the Titans have expressed mutually interest in resigning
- It's been said Matt Hasselbeck will retire before uprooting his family just to play somewhere else.
- Chad Pennington is injured, no timetable for return
- The 49ers want to resign Alex Smith
- Jim Sorgi has been linked to Cincinnati
- It appears the Chargers will try and resign Billy Volek
- Donovan McNabb has been linked to the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, while all of this is far from ironclad what we are seeing is all the best options already being linked in some way to another team. The one organization who we consistently don't hear about is the Carolina Panthers. When you couple this with Cam Newton saying the version of the play book he got was far less verbal than anything Gruden barked at him at QB camp, you are seeing the framework for a Newton led Carolina Panthers team in 2011.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine the Panthers have been tailoring their play book to Newton's skill set for some time now. After all, who's to say that 200 pages of that 900 page offensive play book Chudzinski created aren't plays tailored for Cam Newton? If the Panthers have known for some time they were going to take Newton, and if you ask Darin Gantt (he's been saying it since mid-February) then it has been building for a while.
What we have established in this first part is that the veteran free agency situation isn't quite as rosy as we may have thought. There does seem to be a need greater than talent available at the position, which may force the Panthers' hand to start Newton early; that being said, it may not have needed to be forced much at all as they could have been building towards this for some time.
Later today I'll conclude this look by getting into the Xs and Os to examine what a play book could look like in order to tailor to Newton's specific abilities.