The ripple effects of the Carolina Panthers’ decision to fire longtime coach Ron Rivera extend to Chicago beyond just seeing an old friend in “Chico” lose his job. It feels like the Panthers are hitting the reset button as a franchise, which seemingly increases the likelihood they move on from quarterback Cam Newton this offseason.
Could Newton’s next stop be in Chicago?
It makes sense on the surface. The Bears’ Super Bowl window may be a quarterback away from being open, even if it’s only for a year or two as the core of this roster grows older and/or more expensive. Newton has a league MVP and conference title on his resume, and if he enters 2020 healthy after appearing in just two games this season, he’d be a good bet to be an upgrade over Mitch Trubisky (and a lot of quarterbacks around the league, to be fair).
Should the Bears pursue Newton? Given how great the payoff would be for betting on his health, the simple answer is yes. But there are no simple answers in the NFL.
It would be a massive shock if the Bears were even interested in Newton this offseason, let alone managed to land him in the event the Panthers make him available. Here’s why:
1. The Bears still believe in Trubisky.
It’s fair to be skeptical of the scope and sustainability of Trubisky’s progress over his last four games — in which, statistically, he’s been a league-average quarterback — but it’s another thing to be skeptical of the Bears’ internal belief in the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.
General manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy both have had up-close looks at quarterbacks who took longer to develop success in Drew Brees and Alex Smith, and both have been dropping breadcrumbs for weeks about their long-term confidence in Trubisky.
“The past two weeks he’s made strides just with decision-making and conviction,” Pace said in an interview with WBBM-780 prior to their Week 12 win over the New York Giants. That comment came before Trubisky’s games against the Giants and Lions, both of which have been viewed as further positives inside Halas Hall (Pace does not talk to the media in-season beyond weekly in-house interviews with the Bears’ flagship radio station).
Nagy has said he’s noticed progress in Trubisky ever since the Bears’ Week 10 win over the Lions, a four-game stretch culminating with Trubisky’s 338-yard showing in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
“If you play well and you don’t have great numbers, that’s fine if you win,” Nagy said. “We want to win. That’s the No. 1 objective — are you helping your team win is the big one. Are you making the right decisions and are you making plays when you’ve been asked to make plays — and that’s not just the quarterback. That’s everybody. And so if you have a nice statistical game with that, you’re going to feel good about it because it makes you feel like you really helped the team win.”
So before this four-game stretch, the mantra was the offensive struggles and losing streak weren’t all Trubisky’s fault. Now, the drumbeat is about Trubisky’s progress.
That doesn’t sound like an organization ready to move on from the guy in which they invested so much two and a half years ago. Pace’s career is riding on Trubisky, and to an extent, Nagy’s is too. And it feels like Trubisky has done enough in the eyes of the Bears’ decision-makers to keep him entrenched as the team’s 2020 Week 1 starting quarterback.
2. The money doesn’t work.
Even if the Bears remain confident in Trubisky’s ability to start in 2020, they’d be smart to bring in a backup quarterback who can at least provide a modicum of competition for him either via a draft pick, free agent signing or both.
Alternatively, too: If the Bears were to determine they needed a new starting quarterback in 2020, they don’t have the kind of funds necessary to sign a top-tier player like Newton while still addressing other looming holes on their roster (right guard, safety and inside linebacker, to name three). The Bears can save about $10 million in cap space by cutting Kyle Long and Adam Shaheen, but doing so would only give them about $23 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
That’s a very rough number — it could be higher or lower — but the ballpark estimate is the Bears won’t have gobs of cap space with which to work.
So in this scenario, the Bears still have to be on the cheaper side of things to create true competition for Trubisky. And that means no Newton.
NBC colleague Josh Norris is absolutely right about this:
One final thought:— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) December 3, 2019
Cam Newton is not playing ANYWHERE on his current contract that ends after 2020.
He's getting a new deal, and more money, somewhere.
The Bears could barely fit Newton’s $19 million cap hit for 2020 anyways, and while they could structure his contract to give themselves some wiggle room next year, chances are Newton will sign a shorter-term, high-value deal. Even a cap hit of $12 million — which is what Nick Foles’ is in the first year of his four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars — would be pricey for a team that’s consistently said it’s not all the quarterback’s fault, hinting at the need for upgrades elsewhere on the roster.
3. Why would Newton come to Chicago?
Let’s say Newton hits free agency and the Bears decide they want to explore signing him. Given all the public support of Trubisky and Newton’s uncertain injury status, it’d seem unlikely the Bears would hand the former Heisman Trophy winner their starting gig.
And if Newton wants to resurrect his career, why would he go somewhere he’s not guaranteed to be the starter?
Newton has reportedly sent signals he’d be willing to come to Chicago, but that was during the Bears’ four-game losing streak — the current nadir of the Trubisky era. With Trubisky playing better, and with more angling from Halas Hall regarding the organization’s belief in him, it’d be an uncertain proposition for Newton to come to Chicago in an effort to spark his career.
Never say never on anything when it comes to Pace — we learned that lesson from the Khalil Mack trade — but Newton coming to Chicago feels awfully unlikely.