ATLANTA — Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will reach a milestone on Saturday, and it has nothing to do with opening another cigar lounge, unveiling another outlandish outfit like the one he wore on Monday to the Met Gala in New York or where he stands with rehab from shoulder surgery.
He will turn 30.
Newton has accomplished a lot in his first eight NFL seasons, from winning the league MVP award in 2015 and guiding his team to Super Bowl 50 to becoming the father of three — four, when you include his stepdaughter, whom he considers his own.
He has set the standard for dual-threat quarterbacks, shattering Steve Young’s record (43) for rushing touchdowns with 58 in six fewer seasons than the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
He also has raised the league bar for style — swag, as he calls it.
But there’s one thing Newton wants to accomplish more than anything as he enters the next generation of his career.
“I just want to start off with a Super Bowl,” Newton told ESPN during an interview at his new lounge, Fellaship. “As a matter of fact, bringing a buzz back to Charlotte in the sense that 2015 was special. It was so long ago. It also was not too long ago.
“It’s time for us to turn the pages and get back to that style and brand of football, where we’re winning football games as collective group and having that swagger and confidence people know we can play with.”
Much depends on Newton’s shoulder returning to full strength so he doesn’t have to be replaced for Hail Mary passes, as he was several times in 2018. He knows that and is optimistic, based on his current health, that he’ll be ready for the season.
“Consistency and sustaining success is something that has been our issue,” said Newton, who in eight seasons has failed to lead Carolina to consecutive winning seasons. “Let me just say, my issue.
“I take full ownership of where this team is, and I’m extremely optimistic of where we’re going. Through that, everything starts and ends in me. I know my game play has to be more consistent for this team to be successful.”
Newton’s consistency took a step forward last season, before his arm strength became an issue and he was shut down for the final two games. He completed a career-best 67.9 percent of his passes after coming into the season with an average of 58.5 percent.
He took more of a leadership role, something that stands out as one of the biggest differences between now and when Carolina made him the first pick of the 2011 draft.
“I take pride in it,” Newton said.
The question for Newton is, can he play into his 30s at the level Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and others have?
One factor is injuries. Newton, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, has been contacted (sacked or hit while throwing or rushing) 1,304 times since 2011. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is second at 942. Rodgers is at 669.
Since 2006, Newton has taken far more hits (10.0) per game than any other quarterback. Wilson is second at 7.5, followed by Dak Prescott at 6.1 and Andrew Luck at 6.0.
Critics suggest Newton must change his style and be more of a pocket passer to extend his career. Newton did take fewer chances with runs in 2018 and slid more, taking some precautions to protect his body.
He still had 101 carries and, before missing the final two games, was on pace for 115. His career average is 116.1 rushes per season.
It remains to be seen whether that will change.
In Newton’s favor, 30 isn’t an age when the production of quarterbacks typically declines. Seven of the top 10 quarterbacks in touchdown passes last season were 30 or older.
Four — Brady, Roethlisberger, Brees and Rivers — of the top seven in total quarterback rating in 2018 were older than 35.
|ESPN Stats & Information|
In the past three Super Bowls, four of the six starting quarterbacks were at least 30. Brady accounted for three and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan the other.
The average age of the winning Super Bowl quarterback is 30.87.
There also is evidence a quarterback can continue to run into his 30s. Thirty-two of Young’s rushing touchdowns came after he turned 30.
Young rushed 70 times for 454 yards and six touchdowns in his last full season as a starter (1998), when he was 37. The carries were the third most of his career.
During Newton’s MVP season, when critics were talking about how many hits the quarterback took, Young said, “Leave it alone.”
“You can get out and move around and continue to put pressure on defenses and not put yourself at tremendous risk,” Young told ESPN at the time. “Just know when to get down, how to finish.”
Newton doesn’t pretend to think he can play until he is 45, which is Brady’s goal. He doesn’t pretend to think he can win six Super Bowls as Brady has, with three coming since he turned 30.
Newton just wants to win one — and then think about a second.
It won’t be easy. Roethlisberger won both of his Super Bowls in his 20s. Rodgers was 27 when he won his only Super Bowl after the 2011 season, and he hasn’t been back.
Brees was 31 when he won his only title, and he hasn’t been back. Rivers, 37, has been to eight Pro Bowls but never has made the title game.
Newton knows that. That’s why longevity also is on his wish list for his 30s.
“Man, listen here,” Newton said. “There’s a lot of things I want to have, and one of those things is probably years of playing. … Me still being in the NFL going on nine years is a blessing.”