Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: What's the Deal with Cam Newton?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 27, 2017

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) takes the field against the New Orleans Saints before an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. The Saints won 34-13. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Cam Newton fights on, but at what cost? Why football is so addictive. And where, oh where, is the NFL's Gregg Popovich?

    

1. Should Cam Newton Take a Seat?

It was in March when Cam Newton had shoulder surgery, a development that limited the Panthers quarterback to throwing two passes in the exhibition season while also curtailing his participation in training camp. 

Then, in Week 2, he injured his ankle. Two weeks ago, Panthers coach Ron Rivera spoke of the new normal for Newton, telling Max Henson of Panthers.com that injuries would likely force Newton to be limited in practice for much of the season.

Newton has rarely gotten enough credit for his incredible toughness. I haven't seen a quarterback take the kind of physical beating Newton does almost weekly since I covered Steve Young. And Young had seven concussions during his NFL career.

Newton has been, in the football sense, a warrior.

That comes with a cost. Some team officials told B/R that when they watch Newton they feel he's breaking down physically—fast.

To be fair, these officials haven't talked to Newton's doctors, so much of this is speculation.

Yet it's hard to deny that Newton in the early going this season looks physically drained, and scouts who have watched him closely believe he is far more beat up than the team, or Newton, is willing to say.

While those same scouts are impressed with Newton's willingness to play while clearly not at full health, they also wonder how smart it is for Newton to keep playing. Is he sacrificing long-term success to play now? Should he sit and fully recuperate the way Andrew Luck is?

Given his limited practice schedule, there is a belief that Newton is more injured than anyone is letting on, and that that is leading to his struggles on the field, where he has thrown for 566 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions through three games.

Newton, for his part, is telling people to relax.

"Moving forward, there is no need to panic," Newton said, via the team's website. "There is no need to rush. There is no need to be up in arms about the situation. Should you be frustrated as a fan? Absolutely. I am frustrated with my lackluster performance, knowing that we are better than the performances we've been putting on the past couple of weeks.

"Be patient, and know that big things are ahead for us. This year's Panthers team has big things to do."

But will it do them with what looks to be a hobbled Newton?

    

2. What's Happened To Amari Cooper?

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

It's time we had a conversation about Amari Cooper. We are, as the kids used to say, going to keep it real.

Have we all overrated the Raiders star wide receiver?

I know I certainly have. He's still a top-10 talent at his position, but so far this season he ranks among the most disappointing players in the game.

Cooper has been outplayed by teammate Michael Crabtree, and if you were ranking the Raiders' most impactful offensive players thus far, Cooper not only would fall behind Crabtree and Derek Carr but Marshawn Lynch, too. And Lynch didn't play last season. That is stunning.

One scout told B/R that Cooper's problem is simple: He's making far too many mental errors, and they aren't being fixed. Some of this is on Cooper, the scout said, and some of it is on the coaching staff.

"He's a dynamic player for us," coach Jack Del Rio said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. "Not a good thing when he's not catching the ball and making those plays. We've gotta find a way to help that be rectified.

"We'd like to find a way to help him get through that. He's a dynamic playmaking option for us, and when we get him free and get the ball to him delivered like that, we've got to be able to catch it and go get busy."

It cannot be emphasized enough just how highly thought of Cooper was around football just a few years ago. Some privately compared him to former Raiders great Tim Brown. Others said he was potentially in the same universe as an Odell Beckham Jr.

What's happened since? Cooper leads the NFL in dropped passes this season with six, according to SilverAndBlackPride.com. He's cool-headed, which is a good trait, but sometimes it appears he's a bit too cool.

The Washington game Sunday night was typical of Cooper's season. Covered by Josh Norman, he was a non-factor. Then, Norman rubbed Cooper's face in it.

"You don't come in here and say what you're going to put up on somebody. Two hundred yards? Did he even catch two balls? He only caught one, huh," Norman said. "Don't come out here and tell me what you're going to do. Show me. You're gonna have to run through me to get that, and we ain't lettin' that happen. So whatever that young cat said, Coop, go on and take it back."

Getting into beefs with wideouts isn't breaking new ground for Norman. He's brawled verbally with Dez Bryant and both verbally and physically with Beckham, but Cooper's apparent lack of fight against Norman is concerning.

Cooper, indeed, is talented enough to reverse all this and break out, but his slow start could be a sign of trouble for a Raiders offense that needs him at peak productivity to make those dark-horse Super Bowl predictions come true. But almost a month into the season, there have been few signals Cooper is ready to recover his star gleam.

    

3. A Breakthrough on the CTE Front May Be at Hand

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 03:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is tested for a concussion on the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during their AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field on January 3, 2015 in Pittsburgh, P
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The protein is called CCL11. It may one day be remembered as something that changed football.

The medical journal PLOS ONE examined 23 brains of former football players who had been diagnosed with CTE, the degenerative brain disease associated with concussions. The science is far above my pay grade, but levels of the protein were found to be higher in the central nervous systems of those former players who had CTE than in those studied who had Alzheimer's disease or were control subjects.

According to a statement by Boston University (per TSN's Rick Westhead), where researchers conducted the study, the hope is that the finding will give doctors and researchers biomarkers for which to look as they try to identify CTE in living players.

Currently, diagnosing CTE is something that can only be done posthumously.

That poses a potential advance for players now, but its impact may be felt most by those still learning how to play the game. What if, say, you could diagnose the beginning stages of CTE in a 12-year-old?

If that were possible, few parents would let their kids play beyond that point.

    

4. Players May Not Be Only On-Field Personnel Ready to Take a Knee

It's unlikely it would ever come to pass, but I have heard from some front office people that one game official was considering taking a knee last weekend as part of the leaguewide social justice protests. Doesn't mean it will happen, but I've heard it enough times from several front office folks to believe it was a possibility.

And if it did, what a story that would be.

    

5. This Is Still a Great Game

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 24:  Geronimo Allison #81 of the Green Bay Packers runs with the ball in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field on September 24, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This weekend, there were 10 games within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, according to the NFL. Eight games were decided by a touchdown or less, and each of those came down to the final two minutes or overtime.

Week 3 was one of the best weekends of actual football in a long time. And it shows that, despite lower ratings and all the controversies, the NFL can still enthrall like no other sport when games are played well.

    

6. Are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers Speaking Out Enough?

Washington Wizards star John Wall created a few waves Monday when he called for Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to do more to lead NFL players in taking a stand to support Colin Kaepernick and other players' right to protest.

Both Brady and Rodgers have expressed support for their fellow NFL players, and both disagreed with President Donald Trump's remarks, but Wall and some of his NBA brethren appear to have their doubts that they have done enough. Stay tuned.

     

7. Odell Makes History

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

The NFL's passing game has changed dramatically since Jerry Rice dominated it in the 1980s. Or Michael Irvin in the 1990s. Or even 10 years ago.

But what Beckham is doing nonetheless remains remarkable. On Sunday, he became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 300 receptions, according to B/R research. He needed just 45 games.

The previous record was held by Anquan Boldin, who reached 300 receptions in 47 games.

Would Beckham be able to do this in the more physical era of the '80s or '90s? Probably not. The game was far more brutal, and receivers like Beckham likely would have been pulverized.

That doesn't mean what Beckham is doing isn't as impressive as anything we're seeing in the NFL right now.

     

8. A Blip on Seattle's Radar

James Kenney/Associated Press

It's been a rough start for the Seahawks this season. As if to illustrate the point, DeMarco Murray's 75-yard touchdown run Sunday was the longest run given up by Seattle in the Pete Carroll Era, according to the badasses at B/R Research.

That's not great. Neither are the horrific offensive line problems that continue to plague the Seahawks.

Yet they're also the team I'm worried least about. There's just far too much talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, for their season to sink. The Murray run was bad, but it's not time to worry.

     

9. Get That Man a Bucket of Ice

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

It may not be a hallowed number in the annals of NFL history, but 45,000 means something to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

That is a lot of passing yards.

Is Palmer, who has 45,194 passing yards entering Week 4, a Hall of Famer? Not to me, but those kinds of numbers will get him some consideration.

     

10. Where's the NFL's Gregg Popovich?

The words from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich about race and the need to talk about it were remarkable and blunt. Whether you agree with him or not, Pop's comments were brave words, and he didn't need to speak them.

He could have stayed quiet the way almost every person in NFL management does, but the fact that he didn't brings up, yet again, the question Where are the Popoviches of the NFL? Why does NFL culture breed so much fear that no coach, general manager or owner would speak so honestly?

There are, of course, some who don't agree with Popovich, but how would we know when so many are afraid to speak up?

You may not want them to speak up. You may want them to stick to sports.

But that hasn't stopped Popovich, and it shouldn't stop some in the NFL from doing the same. There are plenty of people in the league with the security of reputation and job perhaps necessary to speak freely, yet none do. Why don't they? When will they?

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.