Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jameis Winston were expected to become franchise NFL quarterbacks for years to come. Newton and Winston enjoyed stellar collegiate careers at Auburn and Florida State, respectively. Newton was selected first overall in the 2011 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, while Winston was the first overall selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015.
Times have changed. Newton was told to seek a trade by the Panthers before eventually being released. Newton sustained a foot and shoulder injury that limited him to just two games in 2019. Carolina signed former New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a three year, $63 million dollar contract. Bridgewater replaced quarterback Drew Brees, who needed right thumb surgery during the 2019 season, and compiled a perfect 5-0 record. Apparently that was enough for Carolina to sign Bridgewater to become the starter.
The acquisition of Bridgewater was also enough to make Newton expendable. That was a tough pill to swallow for Newton after his stellar 2015 season. That year, Newton was named NFL Most Valuable Player after leading Carolina to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance against the Denver Broncos.
The Buccaneers’ transition from Winston was a little easier. Winston passed for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns for Tampa Bay in 2019. Unfortunately, Winston threw for 30 interceptions, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season. Winston also had six of his interceptions returned for touchdowns, leading the NFL in that dubious distinction.
The Buccaneers had enough of Winston’s inconsistent five year tenure that resulted in zero playoff appearances. Tampa Bay signed former New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady to a fully guaranteed two year, $50 million dollar contract. It’s safe to say that the Buccaneers have upgraded the position with Brady, regarded as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
The ideal situation for Newton and Winston is to sign a free agent contract with teams looking for a starting quarterback. Such a scenario isn’t guaranteed, as the 2020 NFL draft is filled with quarterbacks like LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, and Utah State’s Jordan Love. That said, Newton and Winston’s only hope are to sign a short term deal and accept a reserve quarterback role.
Being a backup quarterback may not be the role that Newton or Winston was expecting. But the NFL is a tough business, where past achievements don’t transcend what players can achieve in the moment. If you’re injured or performing poorly, teams will sever ties with you in a heartbeat if they can find an adequate replacement. Potential landing spots for Newton and Winston will become clearer as the draft and free agency commences.