Cam Newton's Latest Outburst Has Some in NFL Wondering If His End Is Near

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 27, 2017

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers on the sidelines during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on October 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bears defeated the Panthers 17-3.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When Cam Newton bolted from a press conference this week (more on that in a moment), it proved, yet again, to some in the NFL that Newton is a mentally soft front-runner.

This isn't true, of course. You can't get to a Super Bowl being soft. Hell, you can't make the NFL being that way. It is, however, the narrative Newton's critics have clung to for years, evidence be damned. It's the same kind of lunacy that has some believing Picard was a better Star Fleet captain than Kirk.

But that "mentally soft" label was tossed around repeatedly by many around the league with whom B/R communicated. Some even expressed a sense of glee about Newton's latest media misstep, in which he tried to brush off a question about the Panthers offense by stating "next question," before abruptly walking out of the press room.

One NFL source, though, was sympathetic to Newton, seeing his outburst as a product of the star QB's frustration, not his makeup. Newton likely knows, argues the sympathetic source, that he doesn't have a great deal of help around him, especially on offense. And while that must irk him privately, he can't torch his teammates in public.

More importantly, the source wondered if Newton's reaction was a signal that the Newton we have come to know and expect on Sundays has begun to decline. Has his "era" already seen its high point?

Newton has been a force, a game-changer, and despite the criticism he's faced—some of it earned, some of it not—he will go down as one of the dominant players of his generation. Most people with a shred of football knowledge and an ounce of honesty know this.


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Yet it's also true that at times Newton looks spent. He's been hurt, sure, but that doesn't seem to be the problem. More and more Newton appears a bit sluggish on the edges, where he once routinely destroyed defenses. Newton's never been extremely accurate, but some of his passes are shockingly errant nowadays.

In the past two games, the Panthers had one offensive play longer than 20 yards. The eighth overall pick, Christian McCaffrey, has been an excellent pass-catcher, but not a game-breaker.

Newton's had big moments, to be certain, like in games against New England and Detroit. Overall, however, he doesn't look like himself. At times, it looks like he's aging in dog years.

This isn't just me talking. This is what personnel evaluators I trust have also told me.

It seems absurd to say a 28-year-old quarterback is past his prime, but Newton is no ordinary pass-thrower. Few players in the recent history of the sport have taken the kind of beating he has. It's reminiscent of Ken Stabler or Steve Young. As Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer wrote, Newton has already been sacked 22 times and is on pace for 50 for the season. His previous high was 43 in 2013. That's a lot of hits.

Defenses continue to adapt to Newton. One scout told me that teams used to outright fear Newton. That's no longer the case, he said.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

There are some defenders of Newton who say the press conference explosions are vastly overblown. They say we at least see the real Newton; he doesn't hide his true emotions. There's nothing canned.

Yet inside the Panthers, they have worked with Newton on curtailing when he lashes out, as his reactions are costly, both figuratively and literally. After Super Bowl 50, Newton acted like a pampered child. He was a sexist jerk in another presser. He skipped a press conference earlier this month.

This latest incident wasn't pretty, either.

Lots of players get irritated with the press. There are plenty of drama kings, too, like Ben Roethlisberger, and a bevy of wide receivers. Still, this is not a good look for Newton.

Ironically, it was Newton himself who spoke before his latest media exit about how when the Panthers are clicking, they are fun and joyous. "And when we're not, it's just a lethargic team that's out there that's emotionless, and that has to change. We have to give ourselves reasons to celebrate and be enthusiastic while out there on the football team. And when you do that, that's contagious."

It's always dangerous to doubt Newton. He could follow his bad game against the Bears by torching the Buccaneers. Again, he's not soft.

But he also may be breaking down.

And there may be nothing anyone can do about it but watch.

        

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

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