Carolina Panthers: Newton out four months after surgery

The news keeps getting worse in Charlotte, as Carolina Panthers franchise quarterback Cam Newton could miss up to four months following surgery yesterday to repair ligament damage in his left ankle. Newton suffered what was considered a minor injury Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints, but the injury did not improve and has required off-season surgery to ensure Newton will not miss any games to start the 2014 season.

Newton has never missed a game in his three-year career, and 2013 was somewhat of a resurgence for the quarterback after doubters surfaced following the 2012 season, a less-than-inspiring “sophomore’ campaign on the heels of Newton’s record-breaking rookie season. In 2011 Newton threw for 4,051 yards, a rookie record for quarterbacks at the time, anchored by two consecutive record-breaking passing totals in Weeks 1 and 2 (422 and 435 passing yards, respectively).

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton scrambles for a first down.

A look at Newton’s statistics over his short three years in the league shows maturity at the quarterback position and pocket-passing improvement manning an offense that clearly became less dependent on the quarterback after a year in which he took the NFL by storm – and surprise.

Both Newton’s passing and rushing yards declined each of the three years he’s been in the league, but so have his passing and rushing attempts, proof the Panthers have become less dependent on Newton in successive years. More importantly, Newton’s completion percentage and passer rating have increased over that time while both his interceptions and total turnovers have declined over the same period. Newton’s rushing TDs have declined the last three seasons (14-8-6), but the potential superstar threw 24 touchdowns in 2013, a career-high.

Perhaps most understated is Newton’s durability, and the news of ankle surgery accompanied by a four-month recovery time certainly has Panthers fans wondering about the future of that durability. The estimated recovery timetable puts Newton back on the field for contact activities sometime in August, when training camp and the preseason are well underway. Newton could be allowed to throw prior to contact drills, but even the smallest setback to this Carolina offense could be detrimental.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton will be looking to throw it to anyone in 2014.

The Panther’s passing attack is reeling after losing three of the team’s four leading pass catchers, including long-time leading receiver Steve Smith (Braswell story), so the news that their star quarterback will miss significant time is not welcoming to Panthers fans. In addition to releasing stalwart receiver Smith (Baltimore Ravens), the Panthers also let Ted Ginn Jr. (Arizona Cardinals) and Brandon LaFell (New England Patriots) sign with other teams after becoming unrestricted free agents last Tuesday. The team began to address those issues yesterday, which also made news along with Newton’s surgery.

The Carolina Panthers signed Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery Thursday, and while he will not replace any of the aforementioned wide receivers that left the team in recent weeks, it does stop the proverbial bleeding. Cotchery, 31, will be looked upon to provide a veteran presence for a presumably young receiving corps, as the two receivers atop the Panthers depth chart have yet to catch a pass in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers

Former Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Panthers Thursday.

Signing Cotchery is as small step in the right direction, but much more work is required to get this receiving corps back into form. As the draft approaches and the Panthers continue to refine their draft strategy, one would have to assume the Panthers will be targeting a big-time receiving talent with the ability to step right in and make a difference. Such will have to be the case playing with a quarterback they will have little time to build any chemistry with before the start of the season, not much more than four months from now.

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