Carolina Panther's GM Dave Gettleman made headlines on Tuesday when he seemingly called out Cam Newton for his win-loss record, saying that it was the “elephant in the room”. Gettleman stopped short of saying that Newton wasn't their quarterback of the future – instead he gave Newton a backhanded compliment saying that his statistical success had caused people to forget about his losing record as a starter. And it only took him a seven second long awkward pause to say that he did feel Newton was the quarterback of Carolina's future.
There's no denying that the Panthers have struggled to win games with Newton at the helm. But is that the quarterback's fault, or should the blame be placed elsewhere?
Amongst NFL fans, the consensus seemed to be that Newton took steps backwards in his sophomore season. The 7-9 record that the Panthers finished with in 2012 would seem to back that up. Finishing below .500 for the second straight season with Newton under center clearly failed to meet expectations. Does a glance at Newton's stats in 2012 result in the same conclusion, however?
To put it simply – no. Sure his completion percentage dropped by a couple of percentage points. But he also threw fewer interceptions, had a higher yards per pass average, and ran for more yards than his rookie season. At the very least, Newton didn't regress in his second year. And after putting together a rookie season that was considered by some to be the best ever for a rookie quarterback, playing at the same level in his second year shouldn't cause a general manager to worry about his quarterback.
The real elephant in the room shouldn't be the play of Cam Newton. Rather, it should be the complete lack of interest the franchise has shown in putting weapons around their franchise player. The best tool Newton has at his disposal is the 34 year old Steve Smith, who while still effective isn't hardly the player he used to be. Aside from Smith, the only real receiving threat the Panthers have had in recent years in tight end Greg Olsen.
Not only did Newton join a roster devoid of weapons in his rookie season, but Carolina hasn't made any real effort to add anyone since then. Since they selected Newton at the top of the 2012 draft, the Panthers haven't drafted any offensive skill players to join him within the first 100 picks of the draft. To make matters worse, they've only drafted three skill position players overall: WRs Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares and RB Kenjon Barner. Not surprisingly, none of those players has yet to display any sort of game-changing ability.
The few weapons the Panthers do have – primarily Jonathon Stewart and Deangelo Williams, have been so mismanaged by the coaching staff that two players that have the ability to be regarded as one of the best backs in the league have instead both in large part wasted their careers sharing carries and keeping the other from getting in a rhythm carrying the ball. In spite of that, Carolina has continued to make substantial investments in keeping two running backs on the roster when they can't figure out how to utilize either one to the fullest.
Contrasting the strategy that Carolina has used to the approach teams like Indianapolis or Washington have taken only serves to highlight how poor the Panthers' front office has handled the roster. The Redskins wasted no time in signing Pierre Garcon, knowing he was the sort of receiver that would complement the offense led by Robert Griffin III. Indianapolis took it even further, drafting tight end Coby Fleener, Andrew Luck's roommate and favorite college target, as well as tight end Dwayne Allen. Those two moves allowed the Colts to build a two tight end set that would allow Luck to thrive from day one.
Having high expectations for your franchise player is almost always a good thing – but before Gettelman and the rest of Carolina's decision makers spend too much time criticizing Newton, they need to spend a good bit of time looking in the mirror. Having a number one pick at quarterback doesn't mean you're able to completely ignore drafting other offensive talent. Until Newton is given some tools to operate with, there's only so much even Superman can do.