Cam Newton is back in Charlotte.
The former superstar quarterback who once won the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player Award and led the Panthers to an appearance in Super Bowl 50 is again in Panther black and blue. Newton signed a one-year deal with the team worth up to $10 million, including $4.5 million fully guaranteed and a $1.5 million roster bonus, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday.
The reunion was set in motion by Panthers coach Matt Rhule reaching out to Newton earlier in the week to gauge his interest in returning to Carolina.
"He emphatically said yes," Rhule said.
Panthers general Scott Fitterer later confirmed that Newton passed his physical and officially signed his contract.
"I always admired the competitor athlete," Fitterer said, per The Charlotte Observer. "But really meeting him today, this guy is all about team. He was really an impressive person. He's coming in looking to help us. He thinks he can put us over the top."
Newton met with team brass on Thursday morning to finalize his contract with the franchise that selected him first overall a decade earlier. The veteran quarterback had spent the preseason and all of the 2020 season with the New England Patriots following his departure from Carolina after the 2019 campaign.
Carolina was in need of QB help following Sam Darnold's injury, a cracked scapula that landed the former first-round pick on injured reserve. Darnold's play in the last five weeks has been abysmal, and the injury expedited Carolina's decision to make a change under center.
Rhule wouldn't rule out Newton being ready to play in Week 10 against the Cardinals -- P.J. Walker is slated to start with Matt Barkley backing him up -- but acknowledged that the Panthers will likely trot him out sooner rather than later.
"I can't do hypotheticals," Rhule said. "Obviously we brought Cam here because of who he is at quarterback and we brought him here to play. But we're not looking into the future. We just got to get him here."
He arrives just in time for another previously unlikely, but now celebrated reunion. The Washington Football Team and coach Ron Rivera, who served as the Panthers' coach for all of Newton's previous stint in Carolina, travel to Carolina in Week 11.
Newton rose to stardom with the Panthers in the last decade, pairing his arm with his large frame to become a passing and running machine who proved to be incredibly difficult to contain. With Rivera directing the Panthers from the sideline, Newton helped Carolina reach the postseason four times between 2011 and 2019, leading the Panthers to an NFC title in his best season in the NFL in 2015.
That 2015 season saw Newton take the league by storm, powering an offense that lifted the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. Newton earned MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors and his only All-Pro selection in the season, which ended in a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection began his career as the Offensive Rookie of the Year after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, reversing Carolina's fortunes in the first years of the new decade. Newton racked up 31,698 passing yards, 190 passing touchdowns, 5,398 rushing yards and 70 rushing scores over his nine seasons in Charlotte, and holds Panthers franchise records for QB wins (68), passing yards (29,041), passing touchdowns (182) and rushing touchdowns (58).
Once Newton's next chapter in Carolina sees him take the field, he'll become just the second player in NFL history to win an MVP with a team, leave for another club, and then return to play again for his old team. Boomer Esiason did so with the Bengals, leaving for New York and Arizona before returning to Cincinnati for one final season prior to retiring after the 1997 campaign.
Newton reunites with Carolina as a changed man, having battled through multiple injuries in recent seasons and seeing his performance decline as a result. Newton's one-season stint in New England saw him record career lows in passing touchdowns (eight) and passing yards per game (177.1) while also missing one game due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Newton finished his time in New England on a positive note, posting a 6-3 TD-INT ratio in his last eight games and going 4-4 in those contests. He returned to New England on a one-year deal worth up to $13.6 million, but was released at the end of the preseason when the Patriots decided to proceed forward with first-round pick Mac Jones.
Newton has since spent the season as a free agent, getting vaccinated in the process and minimizing concern related to him potentially missing time due to a positive COVID-19 test.
"He told me he's healthy and feels great, he's as healthy as he's been," Rhule said. "A healthy Cam Newton is a special player."
We'll see if he's still special enough to turn around the 4-5 Panthers' once-promising season.