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How Cam Newton’s injury might impact the entire NFL

Touchdown Wire logo Touchdown Wire 8/23/2019 Pat Yasinskas
a group of people standing around each other: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Riverboat Ron Rivera gambled again Thursday night, and may have lost big.

In fact, the coach of the Carolina Panthers, who is known for his gambling style (particularly going for it on fourth down) took his biggest gamble ever Thursday night and may have suffered a huge loss when quarterback Cam Newton went down with a foot injury in the fourth quarter of a preseason game against New England.

General manager Marty Hurney said on Friday that Newton has a mid-foot sprain and there's some optimism he could be ready for the season opener. But injuries like this can be trickier than they sound. And it's not out of the question Newton could miss some time.

If Newton is out for a long period, it will have a deep impact on the Panthers - and the rest of the NFL. Let's take a look at nine ways Newton's injury will impact the Panthers and the rest of the league.

9. Let the second-guessing begin

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Ron Rivera was already entering the season on the hot seat. In fact, many were surprised Rivera kept his job after his team collapsed in the second half of last season after his team got off to a 6-2 start. But Rivera got a pass from new owner David Tepper, largely because Newton was playing with a shoulder injury. He was ineffective and the Panthers finally shut him down near the end of last season. Newton had offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder and the Panthers treated him with kid gloves and brought him along slowly. Thursday night was his first action of the preseason. Should he have been playing at all? He had been looking good in training camp and the Panthers could have just sat him out throughout the preseason and made sure he was completely healthy for the regular season.

8. Talk about a shorter preseason will increase

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This will only add fuel to an issue that's been talked about among league officials, team owners, coaches, players and fans for years. Many think the preseason should be shortened and many think it should be done away with completely. It's four totally meaningless games for each team (five if a team is unlucky enough to be selected for the Hall of Fame Game). Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay has drawn fire from fans and media for playing virtually any of his starters in the preseason and some other coaches have followed suit to varying degrees. Many fans agree. So do most players. But the sticking point is the owners. They don't want to give up broadcast revenue and don't want to forfeit the proceeds from their two preseason home games. There has been talk about striking a balance and making the regular season 18 games and shortening or totally ending the preseason. But the NFL Players Association isn't very open to that idea because the belief is it would increase player injuries.

7. The Saints and Falcons may have just gotten better

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans already was a heavy favorite to repeat as the NFC South champion. Atlanta was viewed as a possible contender if it could bounce back from a disappointing season in 2018 and the Falcons certainly have the talent to potentially do that. Carolina was viewed similarly - until last night. If Newton is out for an extended period, this becomes a two-team division. Maybe a one-team division, if Atlanta falters. Carolina could even challenge Tampa Bay for fourth place.

6. The cupboard is bare

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If Newton is out for an extended period, here's who the Panthers have at quarterback - Kyle Allen, Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke is the "veteran'' of this group. He's bounced around the league since 2016, but has appeared in only seven games and has attempted just 58 passes. Allen has appeared in two NFL games, making one start and has 31 pass attempts. Grier is a rookie.

5. The cupboard shouldn't have been bare

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Even before the injury, the Panthers should have found a solid insurance policy behind Newton in the offseason. There were no guarantees Newton's shoulder would recover completely. The Panthers could have signed anyone of a bunch of veteran quarterbacks in the offseason. Heck, they had the perfect guy in their own backyard. Josh McCown, who spent time with the Panthers earlier in his career, lives in Charlotte. McCown was retired and had started a job in broadcasting. But the Philadelphia Eagles recently coaxed McCown out of retirement. The Panthers could have done the same thing months ago. McCown is the perfect short-term fill-in, a heady veteran who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. The Panthers could try to find a veteran on the street (but who's really out there?) or they could try to trade for a veteran quarterback.

4. Fantasy football players beware

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The injury to Newton obviously drops his value in fantasy football leagues. But there could be a ripple impact as well. Carolina running back Christian McAffrey is rated very highly on just about every fantasy cheat sheet. He should be. He's a big-time threat as a runner and receiver. But, if Newton is out for long, McAffrey's value could drop because opposing defenses will focus exclusively on him if the team doesn't have a real threat at quarterback.

3. The front office is in sudden danger

Marty Hurney wearing a white shirt: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Marty Hurney was in that role in Carolina from 2002 until 2012 and returned again in 2017. He's also the guy that drafted Newton. Hurney was already on the hot seat after last season's second half collapse. Hurney was exceptionally close to former owner Jerry Richardson. Since David Tepper bought the team from Richardson, he gradually has been weeding out a lot of employees that had deep ties to Richardson. Hurney's decision not to bring in an experienced back for Newton probably isn't scoring him many points right now. Anything less than a playoff season means Hurney probably will be gone.

2. Did Riverboat Ron go too far?

Ron Rivera wearing sunglasses: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The coach did get the Panthers to a Super Bowl. But he never has been able to string together back-to-back winning seasons and the second half of last season was a fiasco. Rivera is respected by players and fans. But new owner David Tepper wants to win now and that will be tough if the franchise quarterback is out for very long. Tepper already has developed a track record of getting rid of those who were close to former owner Jerry Richardson. Rivera can't survive another losing season.

1. Beginning of the end for Cam Newton?

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Newton has rare physical talent and was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2015. He's only 30. But this injury isn't his first. He had previous ankle and back injuries and he's coming off shoulder surgery. Is he already starting to fall apart physically? That's debatable. But Newton is under contract only through 2020. Let's just say he needs to bounce back from this latest injury and have a strong season or else it could be time for the Panthers to start thinking about his long-term future.

Pat Yasinskas has covered the NFL since 1993. He has worked for The Tampa Tribune, The Charlotte Observer and ESPN.com and writes for numerous national magazines and websites. He also has served as a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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