The New England Patriots made one of the biggest moves of the offseason on Sunday night when they signed free agent quarterback and former league MVP Cam Newton to a one-year contract. Newton may be past his prime, but he is still one of the most intriguing athletes the position has to offer — and a serious candidate to earn the Patriots’ starting gig in Year One after future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. That said, the former Carolina Panthers QB does bring his fair share of questions to the table.
This is especially true when it comes to his injury history: Newton has suffered quite a few injuries over the course of his career, and ended both of the last two seasons on the sidelines due to medical issues. To get a clearer picture of his medical record, let’s go through his injury history year-by-year and find out what it means for his new club.
2008 (Florida): Newton’s second season at the University of Florida was over before it really began. In the season opener against Hawai’i and after having attempted just two passes, he sprained his ankle and was eventually forced to spend his entire sophomore year from that point on on the sidelines as a medical redshirt. Newton transferred from Florida to Blinn College the following year, and was back on the field for spring practices — not missing any more time because of the injury.
2012 (Carolina): After starting all 16 of the Panthers’ games during his 2011 rookie season, Newton also did not miss any games in Year Two. That said, he did suffer a minor injury when he sprained his left ankle in his team’s regular season finale against the New Orleans Saints: Newton left the game in the third quarter, returned a few snaps later, had to leave it again, but was eventually able to finish the contest.
2014 (Carolina): While Newton again did not miss any playing time during the 2013 season, he decided to undergo offseason surgery on his left ankle — a procedure that forced him to be severely limited during the Panthers’ spring practices in preparation for the 2014 campaign. Newton did eventually return by the start of training camp, but was again unable to participate fully in the team’s drills as part of his rehabilitation process.
He eventually did return to his usual workload despite still not being at 100 percent, and also started two of Carolina’s preseason contests. The second of the games, however, saw him go down with another injury: following a 7-yard scramble against the Patriots, Newton was cleanly hit in the chest by linebacker Jamie Collins and suffered a hairline fracture on his ribs that forced him to sit out the Panther’s preseason opener two weeks later.
After returning to the field in Week 2 and starting the subsequent 12 games, Newton was sidelined again for a mid-December game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: he had sustained two transverse process fractures in his lower back after being involved in a two-car accident in the week leading up to the game. Newton did return following the game against the Panthers and while listed on the injury report started Carolina’s next game.
The two games were the only ones he missed in 2014 due to injury, but he was reportedly dealing with more issues than those: Newton also was still limited by his ankle and also at one point hurt the thumb on his throwing hand and was seen limping during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles as if he had injured his foot. None of the issues, however, did make it onto an injury report during the season.
2016 (Carolina): Coming off his 2015 MVP campaign — one during which he was fully healthy throughout the season — Newton had to miss another game in 2016: in the fourth quarter of the Panthers’ Week 4 game against the Atlanta Falcons, he suffered a concussion and had to miss both the remainder of the contest and his team’s Week 5 game versus the Buccaneers. Newton was back in Week 6 and did not miss another start that year.
That said, he did suffer another injury in Week 14 against the then-San Diego Chargers: Newton partially tore a rotator cuff in his right throwing shoulder and as a result was limited in practice for the remainder of the season. He did not miss any playing time but eventually was forced to undergo surgery in March 2017 — a procedure that did not allow him to participate in the Panthers’ organized team activities that spring.
2017 (Carolina): Newton started all 16 of his team’s regular season contests as well as its lone playoff game. During that game against the Saints, however, he strained his knee and was forced to miss one play in the fourth quarter. The issue may have limited him for the rest of the Panthers’ 31-26 loss, but it did neither require surgery during the offseason nor limit him for his preparations for the 2018 campaign.
2018 (Carolina): While he did have one of the statistically better seasons of his career in 2018, Newton again struggled with injury: while he was not listed on an injury report until mid-December, the veteran passer acknowledged that he was hampered by a shoulder injury over the second half of the season. The Panthers eventually declared him a game-day inactive for the final two games of their regular season, effectively ending his campaign even without placing him on injured reserve. Newton underwent surgery in January 2019 and had to sit out Carolina’s spring practices as a result.
2019 (Carolina): Newton was back in action for the Panthers’ training camp, but just two weeks into the season saw his ninth NFL campaign come to an end when he suffered what was later revealed to be a Lisfranc fracture. Carolina initially opted to take a cautious approach with its franchise quarterback by deactivating him for each of the next six games, but Newton’s recovery went slower than expected: the Panthers eventually decided to shut him down for good in early November by placing him on their season-ending injured reserve list.
What this means for the Patriots
As can be seen, Newton is bringing a long injury history with him to New England. While some of the issues can be classified as minor or as freak accidents, some are indeed worrisome and could impact whether or not he can make an impact with his new team: his shoulder issue that first popped up in 2016 is one to watch, as are his ankles that bothered him earlier during his pro career. As for 2020, his recovery from a broken foot also will be worth keeping a close eye on.
Newton should not necessarily be labeled an injury-prone player, though. Before ending the 2018 and 2019 seasons on the sidelines, he had missed just seven of 119 career games because of injury. He did have his fair share of minor issues along the way, but he has shown that he can be a durable player — something the Patriots will hope they can get out of the 31-year-old as well this year. If not, however, Newton’s stint in New England may not be a long one.