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New podcast and mini-doc examines the rise and fall of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers

By Zach Goins

July 12, 2020

Football season may still be months away (if it happens at all), but there’s plenty of new content to keep Panthers fans entertained this week. 

On Monday, The Ringer, a popular sports and pop culture website and podcast network, will release the first installment of its new six-episode series, “The Cam Chronicles.”

Written and reported by Ringer staff writer Tyler R. Tynes, the series follows former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s rise to the top of the NFL as one of the league’s most successful, but divisive players. Featuring interviews with Newton himself, former teammates, coaches, friends, family and reporters, the series will explore more than just Newton’s on-field success, but also how he set the bar for a new breed of quarterbacks in the NFL and how that stardom may have impacted his recent fall from grace. 

The series will be available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher starting on Monday, July 13. 

But that’s not the only thing guaranteed to get Panthers fans in their feels this week. On Sunday, SB Nation released a 16-minute video analyzing the collapse of what seemed primed to be the NFL’s next dynasty.

In 2015, the Carolina Panthers dominated the NFL on their way to a 15-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl 50. On the calendar, only five years have passed since that magical season, but for many Panthers fans, it feels like a lifetime ago. 

That’s due in large part to the drastic overhaul the organization has undergone in such a short amount of time. But what exactly was it that caused the Panthers to plummet from the top of the NFL so quickly?

That’s the question SB Nation’s YouTube show “Collapse” attempts to answer in its latest installment, “How the Panthers’ 15-win season and potential dynasty went up in smoke.” The web series tackles some of the sports world’s greatest teams analyzing what went wrong to lead to their demise.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Carolina’s collapse, according to SB Nation:

Losing veteran players 

Following the Super Bowl 50 loss to the Broncos, the Panthers still looked primed for success for years to come in the NFL. For the most part, all the key pieces from the 2015 campaign would be back in action again, until the loss of cornerback Josh Norman began a mass exodus of veteran players over the next few seasons.

Heading into 2016, the Panthers placed the franchise tag on the All-Pro corner securing him for another season, but weeks later, the team lifted the tag and Norman packed his bags and headed to Washington. 

After the 2018 season, Thomas Davis parted ways with the Carolina Panthers after 14 seasons. Photo: Alex Cason

While losing one player on defense isn’t enough to cause a collapse all by itself, it signaled a premature end of the Panthers’ reign before it could really begin. Over the next five years the Panthers would part ways with several key pieces to the team’s success, like wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin heading into 2017, defensive end Charles Johnson and running back Jonathan Stewart in 2018, center Ryan Kalil and linebacker Thomas Davis in 2019, and finally tight end Greg Olsen and quarterback Cam Newton during the 2020 offseason. On top of those decisions, linebacker Luke Kuechly’s surprise retirement in January of 2020 proved to be another sizable gap the Panthers will be forced to fill. Those departures left the Panthers looking unrecognizable from the team that so recently sat atop the NFC. 

Injuries

As much as it may have hurt fans to part ways with the veterans, many of the decisions were heavily influenced by a number of injuries that plagued multiple Panthers players between the Super Bowl season and where we are today.

Newton played his final snap as a Panther after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury on his left foot in 2019. Photo: Alex Cason

The most significant of these affected Newton. Prior to the 2017 season, Newton underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder, only to then reinjure the same shoulder midway through the 2018 season and undergo another procedure heading into 2019. Then, two games into 2019, Newton played his final snap as a Panther after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury on his left foot. When your MVP-caliber quarterback is stuck on the sidelines, it’s tough to find sustained success. 

Newton wasn’t the only star stuck on injured reserve, though. Kuechly suffered concussions during three straight seasons, including one in 2016 that forced him to miss the team’s final six games. High-dollar free agent offensive lineman Matt Kalil and offensive tackle Daryl Williams both landed on IR at various times, while Olsen suffered back-to-back foot injuries in 2017 and 2018.

The Panthers released Greg Olsen on February 3, 2020. Photo: Alex Cason

New Ownership 

On top of the on-field shuffling of personnel, change was happening at higher levels in Carolina, too. Before the 2017 season, the team fired general manager Dave Gettlemen, the man responsible for a number of messy team breakups including Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams, but that was only the start. 

In December of the same year, Sports Illustrated broke news on team owner Jerry Richardson’s workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and the use of racial slurs. As a result, Richardson sold the team to billionaire David Tepper, and Carolina moved forward into a new era.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney. Photo: Alex Cason

But the change wasn’t finished yet. After back-to-back losing seasons in 2018 and 2019, Tepper made the decision to part ways with head coach Ron Rivera after nine years with the team. 

The franchise’s decisions over the course of the 2019-2020 season to move on from Rivera, Newton and Olsen, combined with Kuechly’s retirement, marked the final moves to completely overhaul the Panthers.

What’s next?

Now, with first-year head coach Matt Rhule and a brand new staff at the helm, the Panthers are turning their focus to the 2020 season with a fresh start in mind. 

On April 16, 2020, McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64 million extension, making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. Photo: Alex Cason

During the free agency period in March, Carolina addressed several needs on offense, securing players like quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson, as well as signing McCaffrey to a four-year contract extension. In April, the team turned its focus to the other side of the ball, using all seven selections to draft defenders, including the seventh pick overall Derrick Brown, a freakish defensive tackle out of Auburn.

The next time we see the Panthers hit the field, the team will look surprisingly different. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Panthers will be without the face of its franchise, and while that may still sting, Matt Rhule and company have brought a new sense of youthful excitement to the Carolinas. And hopefully a winning attitude that will help get the team back to the promised land, the Super Bowl. 

Watch the SB Nation mini-doc on the rise and fall of the Panthers and listen to The Ringer’s six-part podcast series “The Cam Chronicles” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher starting on Monday, July 13. 

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