Cam Newton’s future remains unclear in Carolina a day after no answers from Matt Rhule

INDIANAPOLIS — Cam Newton is not going anywhere. Until he is. If he is. Which the Carolina Panthers won’t discuss publicly.

The future of the greatest quarterback in franchise history remains in limbo Tuesday, just as it has since it became clear post-Ron Rivera firing that the Panthers would hit a hard reset on the franchise for 2020 and beyond.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule spoke highly of Newton the person, he even went as far to say that when Newton is healthy, he’s among the best of the best. But the first-year head coach continued the theme started by the team owner by not committing to Newton beyond the now.

Newton waited until the second week of December to have surgery to repair a mid-foot sprain he suffered in August. Sources have told me they believe Newton waited to have surgery because he hoped the injury would heal on its own and he didn’t want to go under the knife for a second consecutive year.

The initial recovery timeline was placed at three months, which coincides conveniently with the start of the new league year on March 18. That was one of the biggest signals Newton could be traded in the final year of his $103.8 million deal he signed in 2015.

It’s unclear if Newton will be healthy enough to pass a physical three weeks from now. Additionally, earlier this month he had what has been described to me by multiple sources as a very minor procedure to help blood flow — unrelated to the mid-foot surgery in December.

Even if the Panthers wanted to trade Newton, and even if he could simply pass a physical in mid-March, it strains credulity that another team would part with a draft pick high enough to satisfy the Panthers while Newton remains on the early-to-middle side of his recovery.

Let me be unequivocal: it remains uncertain if Newton will be the Week 1 starter in 2020 for the Carolina Panthers.

That has nothing to do with his want-to. Newton has said publicly and privately for months that he wishes to remain in Carolina. Team owner David Tepper and Rhule are in agreement that, when healthy, he’s a force. And Newton is objectively — and by miles — the best option the Panthers have on a roster featuring fellow quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier.

The decision on Newton will come down to health, first. But secondly, what the Panthers do with Newton will be a sign of how they view 2020. Tepper and Rhule have been clear to fans, media and season ticket holders that this upcoming season will not be filled with wins. This team is rebuilding — possibly tanking — and the path to acquiring high draft picks is paved with losses.

A healthy Newton helps you win games more than Grier or Allen. But this is one of the weakest rosters in football right now south of Christian McCaffrey, and a healthy Newton may only be good enough to get this squad to the 6-10 doldrums.

It’s difficult and unsatisfying for fans and, truthfully, media members trying to figure out what’s going on with Newton that there is not a clear answer right now. And thus, in this business, we are scrounging for every morsel of information and then couching it in caveats. The free-agent quarterback market will hit ludicrous speed in three weeks and there probably won’t be any news to report on that front in Charlotte.

The refusal by Tepper and Rhule to say publicly “Cam’s our Week 1 guy” like Bears GM Ryan Pace said Tuesday about embattled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should be evidence enough that Carolina is still unsure what will happen at sport’s most important position. And so, we keep waiting.

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