There is excitement that causes flashes of hope, and the feeling is kept alive that something good and stable can eventually come out of it. At the end of the day, though, the emptiness of reality wilts those bright flashes, and you always seem to be reminded that beauty alone neither builds nor maintains success or stability.
Make no mistake about it, hope has been abundant throughout the Newton-Panthers marriage. After all, he did shock the NFL world in 2011 with the greatest rookie season the league had ever seen to that point. Accumulating 4,051 yards and 21 touchdown passes with his right arm in addition to adding 706 yards and 14 touchdowns with his feet turned the Panthers from the dead-worst offense in the league in 2010 to one of the best in 2011, going from 32nd ranked to sixth in points scored.
Sure, Cam and the Panthers started out 2-8 in their first season together, but a 4-2 finish to 2011 made hope spring eternal for 2012. When Bountygate tore the defending NFC South champion New Orleans Saints' offseason apart, Carolina was thought to have a fighting chance to snag the division. Hopes were high.
Sadly, Cam and the Carolina Panthers learned the hard way that hope doesn't win ballgames. They had the exact same record through 10 games as they had in the previous season, sitting at 2-8 again. The team again finished strong, winning five of their final six to finish the season 7-9, but the rally did not make the season a success.
What similarly talented quarterback's career will Cam Newton's career most resemble?
Cam's stats regressed. His completion percentage dipped from 60 percent down to 57.7 percent, and he scored eight less touchdowns as a sophomore than as a rookie. To add insult to injury, 2012 saw three rookie quarterbacks guide losing 2011 teams to the playoffs, not to mention a guy known as RG3 quickly usurping Cam's title of greatest rookie quarterback of all time. The neophytes of this season made it very hard to argue for Cam that young quarterbacks deserve time and patience in getting their teams to the playoffs. If Andrew Luck could bring the 2-14 Colts to the postseason in one year's time, why couldn't Cam do it in two years?
The atmosphere of the Carolina Panthers going into 2013 is one of trepidation rather than hope at this point. Ron Rivera's head is firmly on the chopping block, and one would think the team would need at least a 9-7 record for Rivera to keep his job. A start akin to the 2011 and 2012 seasons could certainly get Ron canned mid-season, as he has earned no street creds with the organization that would garner him the respect of letting him finish the season.
While we all know Rivera's fate is obvious in the case of a 2013 implosion, a much more interesting question would be the fate of the organization's star player. Is it possible that Cameron Jerrell Newton, first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, could become trade bait just three years after his anointment as franchise savior?
The idea is not as far-fetched as it reads.
The year 2014 will be the last of Cam's rookie contract. To put this in other words, he will be going into his so-called "contract year" following this season. It would be foolish for the franchise to not at least consider shopping him in the case of a third-straight disappointing season for the Newton-Panthers marriage.
Financially, he would be extremely attractive to a willing team. He is owed only $3.4 million in 2014. In the off chance that Newton has a bad year, letting him walk following the season wouldn't cost very much, and the receiving team's budget wouldn't be nearly as punished as it would in the case of a first-round draft bust.
The asking price for Cam could be the more difficult part of the trade. This is a player whom the Panthers have put more than $30 million into, so they would probably want a king's ransom for the face of their franchise. This would most likely be in the form of a first-round draft pick, a proven NFL starter and a lower-round draft pick that would be contingent on the value of the aforementioned NFL starter.
Even with this asking price, however, Newton remains extremely attractive. Giving up a first-round pick for a proven quarterback isn't a bad racket at all. After all, don't teams give up first-round picks for unproven quarterbacks every year? Would it not be worth it to those teams we hear about every year who are "a quarterback away from contention" to spend a high pick, a low pick and a starter to put themselves over the hump?
What should the Carolina Panthers do with Cam Newton?
So, with no further adieu, here is my idea.
Cam gets traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a first-round pick, a fourth-round pick and Big Ben. Pittsburgh will be set with youth, speed and durability at the quarterback position, three aspects they haven't had in a while.
In addition to a bevy of shiny new draft picks, Carolina will have a bridge quarterback to whatever future they choose at the position. Big Ben will be slightly over the hill and injury-prone coming into the Panthers organization, but the team will finally have a quarterback in the locker room who has winning experience and a positive attitude, two aspects that can influence a developmental quarterback in a fantastic way.
Is this the way Carolina drew it up? No.
Is this the way any team pictures handling its first overall pick? No way.
But we on the precipice of an unusual situation. Cam Newton is definitely one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. But, for a bevy of reasons, be it questionable coaching, dearth of surrounding talent or playing in a great division, it just doesn't seem to be working for Cam in Carolina. And if that is the case, would it be better to turn the once-promising signal-caller into valuable liquid assets, or watch another team give him a $120 million contract in free agency with which his current team can't compete?
I think we both know the answer to that.