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Panthers need to move Cam Newton to injured reserve — the only move that makes sense

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There is one very big quarterback decision that still needs to be made this year for the Carolina Panthers.

It’s time to put Cam Newton on injured reserve and end his 2019 season.

It’s time to officially declare that, at least for this year, this is Kyle Allen’s team.

Allen on Sunday moved his record to 5-1 as the Panthers’ starting quarterback this season, throwing two touchdown passes in an efficient performance as Carolina beat Tennessee, 30-20.

Newton, meanwhile, was not on the sideline in Charlotte after visiting foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Wisconsin on Friday. Newton hasn’t played for six straight games due to a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

A source close to the situation said Newton and his father, Cecil Newton, were reviewing all their options this weekend in light of that visit to Anderson, a former assistant team doctor with the Panthers.

Newton will plan to talk with coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney on Monday in Charlotte, and soon after that conversation, we will have more clarity as to whether Newton plays again this season.

According to a report Sunday from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Newton was told by Dr. Anderson that his injured left foot still needed rest but that surgery wasn’t recommended at this time and isn’t in the quarterback’s plans.

I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera after the game if Newton could go on injured reserve soon. He didn’t commit either way.

“Again, the biggest thing that we will see is how he is progressing,” Rivera said. “He is doing everything that we have asked. He has been great. But we will see.”

When Rivera was asked a few minutes later once again about Newton’s injury status, he ended his press conference.

“To get into it any deeper than that would be all guessing and wouldn’t be fair to anybody,” Rivera said. “So at the end of the day, guys, Kyle is our starter, and we are going to continue to go forward with that. OK? So, with that, thank you, guys.”

From what I hear, it certainly appears to be at least several weeks before Newton could play again, even in a best-case scenario. The Panthers’ starting quarterback since 2011, Newton has already missed more games this season than he did in his past eight seasons combined.

Newton began the season playing on his injured foot — he later admitted he hid the injury’s severity from the team — and Carolina started 0-2. Newton obviously couldn’t run at all in those two losses, which dropped him to 0-8 in his past eight NFL starts.

Now think about this for a second. Even if Newton is finally healthy again in a month, how rusty would he be once he returns to practice? What if he returns but plays poorly? Or he re-injures the same foot? Or he still can’t or won’t run?

Any of those things would substantially hurt the market value for a quarterback whose Panthers contract expires after the 2020 season and who is going to want another big deal, either here or elsewhere.

For Newton’s long-term marketability and the Panthers’ short-term future, I think it’s best for Newton to shut it down this year.

Let the foot get better. Let Newton return in the 2020 season — either with the Panthers or elsewhere, as Newton’s contract situation is very tenuous — after another training camp and another offseason to fully heal.

And in the meantime, let Allen do what he does.

When his teammates play well around him, Allen is plenty good enough to win. He was perfectly fine again Sunday, just like he has been for every game except the one at San Francisco. Allen completed 17 of 32 passes for 232 yards, two TDs and one interception off a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

“It was kind of a bad break on the pick,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said of Allen’s lone turnover. “He threw it to me when I was wide open … Those things happen in this league — bad breaks and bad bounces. He didn’t blink. He just kept playing. Obviously, the rest of the game was pretty smooth.”

Allen made a bunch of good plays in this one. Maybe the best one was overlooked. He was going down on a sack with the ball high above his head, and he somehow yanked it back down into his body without fumbling.

“I think I’ve watched a lot of tapes of Cam getting hit and holding onto the ball like that,” Allen said. “I’m just tired of fumbling, to be honest with you.”

Allen’s first throw of the day was a deep one down the seam to Olsen, and it was nearly picked off. Allen shouldn’t have taken that chance. But after that, Allen settled into a rhythm. His best sequence was an 8-for-8 stretch during a 90-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. He also threw the deep ball relatively well. And he drove the Panthers to another touchdown after Rivera ordered up a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Carolina 36, a call Allen termed “ballsy.”

Allen pays homage to Newton every chance he gets, and he did so again Sunday when I asked how much he had seen Newton this past week.

“He was around a lot,” Allen said. “Like I tell you guys every week, he’s always around and we’re always talking. You can say a lot about Cam, but he is the heart and soul of this team, just like Christian (McCaffrey). He’s a leader in the locker room and he’s there for me and Will (Grier) and he’s there for this team as much as he can. We appreciate him.”

I don’t disagree with any of that. Despite what some think, Newton has always been a good teammate.

But it’s time to end the suspense and put Newton on injured reserve. This is a lost year for him. And the sooner everyone admits that, the sooner everyone can move on to whatever’s next.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.
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