Cam Newton is finally able to admit what was clear and obvious late last season: He shouldn't have been playing.
Dealing with a shoulder injury that ultimately needed another surgery, it was apparent to most people with functioning eyes that Newton should have been shelved during the Panthers' late-season collapse. The quarterback was obviously hindered and threw more turf darts than accurate passes.
In an interview with Peter King for Football Morning In America, Newton admitted he should probably have been held out, but wanted to prove he was a leader.
"As a quarterback in this league," Newton said, "you're unanimously the leader, right? We needed that game. I felt as if I wanted to give my team everything that I had honestly. Being hurt, being injured ... looking back at it, it probably wasn't the smartest, efficient thing, knowing that I left it all out there on the field. And if you asked me if I'd do it again, I'd do it again. I just know my worth to this team-know how much these guys believe in me and how much I believe in them. If I'm willing to do that, and I know I've seen other guys do the same thing, too."
The Panthers finally shut Newton down for the final two games of the season, but the damage was done, both to Carolina's outlook after collapsing from a 6-2 start and to the QB's shoulder which required another offseason of maintenance.
Newton told King that he knows he'll have to evolve as a player, like every athlete as he ages.
"You can look back at any type of player," Newton said. "You can look back at any type of sport and as a player grows, your game has to change. I remember reading and seeing a lot of clips about Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, even Peyton Manning to a degree. When you get old, you have to change certain things. It kind of keeps you young. I actually look forward to it. I embrace this whole process because it's made me feel like a rookie again. Learning certain things, learning new mechanics, focusing on the little nuances of playing a quarterback position and trying to master it. So at this point in my career, it's not about velocity. It's not about throwing a ball 70 yards. It's about efficient football that's gonna win football games."
Even admitting he must evolve, Newton bristled at the notion that his game will be a completely different quarterback after his latest surgery.
"See," he said, "it's still speculation. You know, at the end of the day, God has possessed me with things that I'm grateful for. ... Now, being older, you kind of look at things different. For me, it's not that I'm limited with certain things, or that I'm not capable of doing certain things, it's just other ways to do it. I'm not saying I'm not gonna run people over. I'm not saying I'm not gonna run the football. I'm not saying I'm not gonna throw the ball down the field. I'm just in a position now where none of that matters but one thing, and that's winning football games. If it requires me to do all those things, I'm willing to do it. And if it doesn't, I'm still fine with that."
With Newton back to making all the throws at the start of Panthers camp, Carolina looks poised to be closer to the offense that started the season on fire than the one that cratered down the stretch. Until Newton plays the entire season without re-tweaking the shoulder injury, however, concerns will persist.