Oct. 14-- LONDON-You don't fix what's not broken. You can't mess with success. You stick with the hot hand.
Say it any way you want, but I'm convinced it all means this: No matter what, you just can't bench Kyle Allen for Cam Newton right now.
Allen must start against San Francisco (5-0) on Oct. 27 when the Panthers play their next game. That's the way it needs to be even if Newton feels like he's full speed by then. The Panthers have won four games in a row, and that supersedes everything else in the NFL-all the egos, all the emotion, all of it.
As weird as it seems, the Panthers have to stay with the undrafted guy with five career starts over the former NFL Most Valuable Player with 124 games behind center until-and if-it all goes south.
For now, the Panthers have to ride Allen for as long as they can. The Panthers look efficient with him. They are playing well around him. Allen isn't winning games by himself, but he hasn't lost one yet. He's also the first NFL quarterback ever to win his first five starts (including the 2018 season finale) without throwing a single interception.
The Panthers can spin it any way they like. Say nothing and just keep the status quo. Or say Newton's not healthy-and right now, I have no doubt that is true. In fact, it's possible that Newton's Lisfranc injury to his left foot is severe enough that he doesn't play again in 2019.
More likely, though, Newton will be ready to come back at some point. Maybe soon. And what happens then? Well, that's fuzzier than it used to be.
Following the Carolina Panthers 38-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals with backup quarterback Kyle Allen starting on Sunday, September 22, 2019, head coach Ron Rivera was asked when Cam Newton returns ... .who is up? BY JEFF SINER
Three weeks ago, shortly after Allen threw four touchdown passes in his first game of 2019 to beat Arizona, I asked Rivera if Newton was definitely going to return as the No. 1 quarterback when his foot healed.
Rivera said yes. And he said of Newton: "He's our quarterback-and he's who we rely on. But for now, we're going to stick with Kyle, and we'll keep rolling and see how things unfold as we go forward."
How have things unfolded?
The Panthers have won three more games in a row. Allen is 3-0 on the road in 2019. And Rivera's answer to much the same question in London on Sunday was much more circumspect.
Rivera was asked in his press conference after Carolina's 37-26 win Sunday: "How do you handle the quarterback situation? Has it changed?"
The coach's reply, in full: "Quite honestly, I don't answer the question. I'm not going to worry, speculate on anything until I have to address that. Until then, we're going to stay in the now, focus on what we're doing right now.
"Again, as far as I'm concerned, we're just not going to deal with the question until it's time. When the time comes, I will address it. As far as I'm concerned, he (Newton) is in his rehab program, doing his program. Our quarterback right now has been playing for us is Kyle. We're not going to address it."
Rivera is being very, very cautious.
But I also think he's just being honest. A football field has four corners, but there's no need for the coach to back himself into any of them. Newton is 30 years old, he's taken thousands of hits over his football career, and he's 0-8 in his past eight starts. He played when he shouldn't have in Week 2, later declaring "I was my own worst enemy."
Rivera is deeply loyal to Newton-they both joined the Panthers in 2011-but he's even more loyal to the NFL scripture that winning matters above all.
Charlotte Observer Carolina Panthers beat writer Brendan Marks discusses the team's 37-26 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England on Sunday, October 13, 2019. BY JEFF SINER
Panthers players were similarly vague with their QB-related non-answers following Carolina's latest victory. When McCaffrey was asked what the quarterback spot will look like when Newton returns, he said: "It's not my decision."
When tight end Greg Olsen was asked the same thing, he responded: "There's no reason to speculate on anything. Until Cam is back healthy, it's not really worth something to dive too far into."
Is a healthy Cam Newton better than a healthy Kyle Allen? Of course. Few would dispute that. Allen wouldn't dispute that.
But I don't think Newton will play at that 2015 league MVP level ever again-not consistently, anyway. A game or two, yes. But a year's worth of "Super Cam"? Those days are gone.
Remember, Newton only reached that level for an entire season once in a nine-year career. And he's four years older now, with two shoulder surgeries and a litany of other nagging injuries messing with his body since that high-water mark.
Newton can still be effective, but he's not going to be everything he once was. "Healthy" has become a relative term for him.
I'm not saying the Panthers should immediately release the best quarterback they've ever had.
But they will need to revisit that idea in February, when they will decide if it's better to keep Newton and take a $21.1-million cap hit in the final year of his current contract, or cut him and swallow a relatively modest "dead money" charge of $2 million. In other words, they could save $19 million next year by cutting ties with Newton.
The latter option would allow them to save some money for the Christian McCaffrey extension down the road, as well as to re-sign Allen. The 23-year-old quarterback will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2020. The Panthers aren't in any real danger of losing him under that designation, but he will need a significant raise from the $500,000 or so he's making this year as one of the NFL's biggest bargains.
Understand this, too: Allen will have a stinker of a game at some point. Or two. Or he'll get hurt himself. Something bad is bound to happen. Because in the NFL, something bad always does.
Then Newton's worth will become more apparent. He still has inherent value and should be treated that way-with the respect due to a player who holds almost all Carolina's QB records.
But at the moment, Newton's place isn't in the huddle, even if that foot is declared to be 100% tomorrow. It's on the bench.
It's not personal. It's all about winning, which is all Allen has done. For now, the Panthers owe it to themselves-and their fans-to stick with Allen.
(c)2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.