Carolina Panthers: With Kelvin Benjamin Gone, Could Cam Newton Be Next? [Opinion]

The Carolina Panthers lost Greg Olsen early in the season and still managed to crawl to a 5-3 record. The Panthers, fresh off a week 8 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only stand a half-game out of first place in the NFC South. While Cam Newton has faced off-the-field issues this season, his chemistry with Kelvin Benjamin has not suffered. Until now.

On Wednesday, right before the NFL trade deadline ended, the Panthers made a bold move that may change their outlook on the season and Newton’s time with the team. To say that the trade was surprising would be an understatement. This is the one area where the Panthers could not afford any injuries and all they did was make Newton’s job that much harder.

The reality of the situation may be the production and promise in which rookie running back Christian McCaffrey may have caused such a trade. If this is so, what exactly does that mean for Newton moving forward? Could the Carolina Panthers actually trade Cam Newton?

Newton is straddling the line of good and average quarterback in the NFL. He’s had one season where he outshone his peers, but other than that 2015 MVP campaign, his numbers have been average at best. Entering the season, Newton was gearing up for another great run but Olsen went down, the running game is stagnant, and now his favorite receiver has been traded. From the outside looking in, it seems the Panthers are preparing for a future without Newton.

Take a look at the roster. The main contributors to the Carolina Panthers’ success are either gone or close to walking out the door. No more DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, or Josh Norman. Injuries have saddled Olsen and Luke Kuechly. Father Time is catching up to Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, and Jonathan Stewart, and not to mention the inconsistent play of Devin Funchess and the receiving core.

What this spells out is a team who’s heading into rebuild mode without publicly admitting it. One of the bright spots for the offense has been the play of Benjamin and McCaffrey. With Benjamin gone, the offense will focus on the pass-catching ability of the rookie running back. While he’s been productive this season (49 receptions, 378 yards) he’s still just a running back. McCaffrey has been able to put up those numbers in large part to the coverage that Benjamin warrants. Take Benjamin away and the offense looks completely different.

While getting rid of Newton seems impossible, so did letting go of Benjamin. The NFL is a business and when your $100+ million leader has more interceptions than touchdown passes (10-11), that’s a big problem. However, this is nothing new for the Panthers brass. For his career, Newton is only a 58 percent passer. If not for his legs, he may have already found himself on the bench or in another uniform.

If quarterback’s careers are based on wins then Newton’s time with the Panthers might be coming to an end. Over the course of his career, Newton has led the Panthers to two winning seasons (2013, 2015). To be fair, Newton has not had the same talented players surrounding him like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers throughout his career. However, when you’re paid to play like an elite player, you must do so.

If the Panthers were to trade Newton, they should do so now while he still commands a hefty return. A change of scenery might be what’s best for both parties.

[Featured Image by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images]