The Carolina Panthers already have three backup quarterbacks on their roster: Derek Anderson, Joe Webb and Matt Blanchard. The team must do something in the upcoming draft in May, however, to ensure that none of the three ever reaches the field should an injury sideline starter Cam Newton.
A bomb was dropped on the Panthers on March 18 when the team announced that Newton would undergo surgery to repair a sore ankle. On March 19, Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer provided news from team trainer Ryan Vermillon that the procedure went as planned.
But the rehabilitation period for Newton’s procedure is likely four months, which means the fourth-year quarterback will miss OTAs and minicamp workouts. If the timetable remains intact, Newton will first participate fully with the team during training camp.
During the NFL owners meeting on March 26, head coach Ron Rivera added fuel to the worry-about-Newton fire.
The fact that Newton’s ankle injury dated back to the 2010 season at Auburn, where he guided the Tigers to a national championship, was a known fact. As was the case that Newton tweaked his ankle during a Week 16 game against the New Orleans Saints and was somewhat hobbled through Carolina’s Week 17 game, as well as its playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.
What wasn’t common knowledge was that Newton has had ankle soreness every year at season’s end, and that this year it didn’t improve with rest as it usually does, according to Rivera, per David Newton of ESPN.com.
Every year rest, treatment was part of the rehab program. This year they went through the program, and when he started working out it just wasn't feeling right, so he went and saw the doctor. ...
All we know is that every year he's done this, he's rested it, he's treated it and he's gotten better. This time it didn't get better fast enough.
It seems as if Newton’s ankle is getting progressively worse. If the 24-year-old quarterback’s body is starting to take longer to heal, what’s next? Could Newton’s body start to break down earlier in the season?
The surgical procedure to tighten up ligaments in Newton’s ankle should help protect against the quarterback missing time during the season. But nothing is guaranteed. Newton hasn’t missed a start in his professional career—he’s a perfect 48-for-48 in the regular season and 1-for-1 in the playoffs.
If Newton’s streak of consecutive starts is interrupted for any length of time, do the Panthers really want to look to Anderson, Webb or Blanchard to fill in?
The 30-year-old Anderson has made 43 starts in his eight-year career, 34 for the Cleveland Browns and nine for the Arizona Cardinals. Outside of his 2007 Pro Bowl campaign, where he threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns, Anderson’s career has been less than stellar.
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He has 53 career touchdown passes and 55 interceptions. He’s also only completed 52.8 percent of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 69.1. Anderson can fill in in a pinch—which is why the team re-signed him on March 13 to a two-year deal—but making multiple starts for the Panthers if Newton missed any extended time shouldn’t be the answer.
Carolina signed Webb on March 21 to add depth at the quarterback position. Webb has played four seasons in Minnesota where he started as a receiver for the Vikings in 2010. He moved to quarterback during his rookie season and stayed there in 2011, and then he transitioned back to receiver for the final two years of his rookie contract—except for when the Vikings needed Webb to start a playoff game after the 2012 season.
Webb has a similar skill set to Newton. But the fact that the quarterback-needy Vikings would never completely trust Webb as their future at the quarterback position screams that he’s likely not a great option for Carolina, either.
The 25-year-old Blanchard has never attempted a pass in the NFL. He’ll get a large number of reps in minicamp and OTAs, but it’s best for the Panthers that he continues to stay on the sideline.
If the answer for the Panthers at backup isn’t currently on the roster, May 8-10 is going to be an important three days for the team. Carolina has many needs as it enters the draft, in particular the offensive line, the secondary and the wide receiver position. Where could the Panthers draft a quarterback?
Not only does Carolina have many more pressing needs than quarterback, but there’s no real need to grab a backup option in the early rounds. A move like that could alienate Newton, and it uses a far-too-valuable pick on a backup.
There will be opportunities to take quarterbacks with storied college careers in the middle rounds. Zach Mettenberger from LSU and Aaron Murray from Georgia will both likely be around somewhere on the NFL draft’s second or third day.
One of the college quarterbacks in the 2014 draft most linked to the Panthers is Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who met with Carolina at the combine, per Person.
Boyd closely resembles Newton in playing style. Both quarterbacks can throw well and move around to either extend plays for receivers or take off and scramble. With Boyd as a backup, he could instantly be inserted into a game if Newton were to get injured, and the play-calling wouldn’t have to be altered.
With projections still placing Boyd as a Saturday selection (Rounds 5-7); he could be a low-cost option with huge upside for the Panthers.
Newton has been a bastion of health for his three seasons in the NFL. That trend could continue for the next three to five years, or potentially longer. But Newton’s recent ankle surgery, and the fact that this has been a lingering issue means that Carolina would be wise to put a contingency plan in motion for a potential injury to Newton.
Any plan the Panthers put in place shouldn’t have Anderson, Webb or Blanchard as option No. 1.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.