CHARLOTTE, NC – One of the biggest decisions new Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule will have to make is choosing a quarterback — a move that could determine the direction of his tenure with the club and the franchise's future for years to come.
Rhule said Wednesday he spoke to Cam Newton after accepting the Panthers job, but added that it's way too early to make any decisions about the roster before sitting down and talking at length with general manager Marty Hurney.
“I did talk to Cam (on Tuesday) and I have the utmost respect for him and what he has done," Rhule said Wednesday during an introductory news conference at the team's new practice bubble. “And I love the way he talked to me quite honestly. He didn't want to talk about the past, he wanted to talk about the future."
But Rhule isn't quite ready to talk about the future just yet, "I would much rather talk to those guys and kind of get a feel for not just Cam, but all of the players on the roster, and really have a good process in place moving forward.”
Hurney, who kept his job after coach Ron Rivera was fired, said he has not discussed the quarterback situation with Rhule.
“That is something we will have to sit down and talk about,” Hurney said. "We have a guy who was the MVP of the NFL. And Matt knows that. This is all going to be a process. He is going to have to get to know these guys and get to know the roster. It's a process."
Much like Newton's playing status has been, which adds another element of uncertainty to the decision-making process.
The 31-year-old Newton missed 14 games last season with a Lisfranc foot injury and finished the season on injured reserve. Newton was the league's MVP in 2015, but has struggled with shoulder and foot injuries since and has lost his last eight starts for Carolina.
The team is waiting to see how Newton responds from foot surgery before making a decision on his future.
The Panthers have not given a timetable for his return.
Newton is entering the final year of his contract and is scheduled to cost $21.1 million under the 2020 salary cap. However, the team could free up $19.1 million in cap space if they trade or release him this offseason.
The other options on the roster are Kyle Allen and Will Grier.
Allen was 5-7 in 12 starts last season in place of Newton but committed 23 turnovers — 16 coming on interceptions and seven on fumbles. Allen was eventually benched after losing six straight games and his confidence seemed to deteriorate.
Grier, a third-round pick in 2019 out of West Virginia, started the final two games of the regular season but struggled. The Panthers lost those games by a combined score of 80-16, and Grier was intercepted four times and failed to throw a touchdown pass.
There will be other options if Rhule decides to go in a different direction altogether.
The Panthers have the seventh overall pick in this year's NFL draft.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum highlight an unusually attractive class of free agent quarterbacks, although it's possible some of them may re-sign before they hit the free agent market.
Rhule hasn't had much time to dig into the situation.
He officially agreed to become the Panthers coach on Tuesday after owner David Tepper and Hurney flew to Waco, Texas to meet with him on Monday.
Hurney said it only took about 90 minutes before he switched from interview mode to recruiting mode.
“After talking with him I was like, ‘oh man, we have to convince this guy that Carolina is the right place for him,'" Hurney said.
Then came the Panthers' aggressive seven-year contract offer worth $62.5 million with incentive for even more, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team has not released details of the contract.
The move was made to prevent Rhule from going to his hometown of New York and interviewing with the Giants.
Rhule said the seven-year commitment and the bond he felt with Tepper and Hurney were enough to enough to convince him to forego the Giants interview. Rhule said he never spoke with anyone at the Giants, although his agent did.
“There's no doubt that we share a common vision,” Rhule said after meeting with Tepper and Hurney. “There is no doubt that we believe in doing things the right way.”
Rhule said midway through his interview with the Panthers he spoke to his wife Julie in the other room and she told him, “What are you waiting for? You need to go work for them!”
Now outside of naming a coaching staff, that work begins with the quarterback situation.