Jerry Richardson has reiterated on multiple occasions that Cam Newton will be his last quarterback. Shouldering the weight of a struggling franchise, in last night’s postgame press conference, Cam finally cracked. “Something’s going to have to change. Something’s going to have to change, real fast, in order for us to make that next step, because it’s the same old thing.” Less than 24 hours later, Panthers GM Marty Hurney has been fired and the most important hire in Jerry Richardson’s tenure as owner now looms. Just as Cam Newton’s legacy is tied to the Panthers organization, Jerry Richardson’s legacy, beyond bringing PSLs to the NFL and the Panthers to the Carolinas, is tied directly to Cam Newton.
So while the two and a half years Cam Newton has left on his rookie contract, may appear to be plenty of time to make changes, because of several decisions the Panthers front office has made, the time crunch has already begun. The team can exercise an option to keep Cam in town for a fifth year, but if forced to go down that road instead of signing a contract extension, the damage may already be done. The new general manager and potentially a new head coach will need time to execute their plan and to undo some of what has already be done. This team needs not only more talented players, but also a culture change. There are several young hungry players, Cam included, who are giving it their all on a weekly basis, while several veterans seem more comfortable going through the motions, not leading, and collecting their bloated checks. The contract splurge following the 2011 lockout looms as a likely source of much of the discord. Not only did the team overpay several of their own free agents, they did it before Ron Rivera had coached these men for a single down. Over $300 million in contracts was given out to seven players, including over $100 million in signing bonuses and $130 million in guaranteed money. Quite a contrast from the high player turnover typically associated with a coaching change. By signing these contracts so early in Ron Rivera’s tenure, it sends a clear message about who’s in power, and it’s not Coach Rivera, the man who should be responsible for motivating them on a daily basis.
Much of the national media has been taking Cam’s postgame press conferences at face value, and trying to pass judgment on questions like, “Is Cam a Leader?” but if they look longer and harder, they will realize what Cam seemingly already has, he’s the face of a dysfunctional organization where the owner neutered his new head coach of his greatest power, the power to determine who plays, and by extension, who gets paid. They will also see a team trapped in salary cap hell, due to an owner unwilling to spend leading up to the lockout and then unwisely overspending immediately after. They’ll see a $40 million running back who tallied nine yards total in three games. They’ll see a $50 million linebacker being outplayed by a rookie. They’ll see a team that can’t overcome a single Cam interception to win a game. They’ll see a team facing the decision of blowing it up, when they should have been building up around their young star. They’ll see why Cam’s frustrated.
When this team was trying to convince Julius Peppers to stay, Pep remained true to himself and kept his mouth shut. He could have made things more difficult and perhaps shined a negative light on the Panthers organization. This time around, however, while Cam may continue to take the high road, his people understand there’s too much at stake. To fulfill his star potential Cam needs to win. If he and his people don’t feel he can do it here, they will pursue methods to ensure he will do it somewhere else. Media members will be made aware of issues and the organization and this city will find itself under increased scrutiny. The only way for Jerry Richardson to stay true to his word about Cam being his last quarterback is to prove he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to make Cam successful. Today, he took the first step.
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Read more from Colin: Jerry Richardson – The Man Behind the Curtain