CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule said on Wednesday during a video conference it was the “best thing for our team” to move on from quarterback Cam Newton and move forward with Teddy Bridgewater.
Rhule expressed great appreciation for what Newton did for the organization since being the first pick of the 2011 draft.
But in his first comments since Newton was released last month Rhule indicated the decision had less to do with health — Newton underwent Lisfranc surgery in December and last month was cleared medically — and more to do with Bridgewater being a better fit for what offensive coordinator Joe Brady wants to accomplish.
“I have no doubt that he will play well,” Rhule said of Newton. “He is a great quarterback and we have all seen the things that he has done. I just think as we move forward we thought this was the right time for us. We saw the opportunity to get Teddy and really felt like he was the right fit for us.
“We went ahead and made that call, not an easy call, but one we thought was the best one moving forward.”
The Panthers reached a three-year, $63 million deal with Bridgewater on March 17. That same day the team announced Newton had been given permission to seek a trade.
Newton, 30, then disputed the notion that it was what he wanted, saying on social media, “You forced me into this.”
Newton, who had one year left on his deal with Carolina, has not signed with another team since his released March 24.
Asked specifically whether Newton’s history of injuries over the past three years played a role in the decision, Rhule reiterated the ability to sign Bridgewater, 27.
“I don’t want to make it too much about Cam in a negative way because I have so much respect for him and the player that he is and the player that he will definitely continue to be,” Rhule said. “To me it was just at the end of the day you have to make decision about what are we going to do moving forward.
“We felt like this was the time to go in this direction and bring Teddy on. His relationship with Joe, knowing the offense, the things that he has done in this offense just made sense to us.”
Brady worked with Bridgewater during the 2018 season when Bridgewater was in his first year as a backup for Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints. The two kept in contact last year when Brady moved on to become the passing coordinator at LSU, which won the national title under Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow.
During that time, Bridgewater went 5-0 while Brees recovered from an injury to his throwing hand.
Getting Bridgewater at a time when the NFL is on lockdown because of the COVID-19 crisis made even more sense because of his relationship with Brady.
“Cam Newton is a great quarterback and can play in any system,” Rhule said. “In a year like this, especially where we are all kind of in our homes, Teddy is a guy who has been in this offense, knows this offense and had great familiarity with Joe.
“It just made sense to us. But it’s not a comparison to me so much as it is sort of an opportunity for us and we took it.”
While Rhule acknowledged the biggest needs heading into the draft are on the defensive side, he didn’t rule out taking a quarterback at No. 7 or with a lower round pick.
Carolina has talked to many of the top quarterbacks for the draft, including LSU’s Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Iowa State’s Jordan Love, in addition to projected second-round through fourth-round picks such Washington’s Jacob Eason.
Rhule said he wasn’t ruling anything out.
“I’d say obviously I don’t know if that’s our focus right now, a first-round quarterback,” he said. “But at the end of the day if a guy drops in your lap that you think — at any position — you think can change your team … don’t let need overtake what’s the best thing long-term.
“When you draft you’re not drafting for the next 12 months, you’re drafting for the next four to five to six years, and hopefully on.”