CHARLOTTE — Everyone has a plan. But circumstances change. And how quickly you react can make all the difference.
And when the difference is the course of a season, sometimes you have to make bold moves.
The Panthers on Thursday agreed to terms (pending a physical) with veteran quarterback Cam Newton, giving them an opportunity to stabilize their offense at a time when so many other things are going well, and the playoffs are still a realistic possibility with nearly half the season remaining.
Bringing back the former No. 1 overall pick fits the profile of a team that has been willing to move aggressively, including making 13 trades this calendar year alone.
The signing was predicated by the shoulder injury to starter Sam Darnold, who will miss extended time because of an incomplete fracture in his right scapula. While the Panthers have PJ Walker and just-signed backup Matt Barkley on hand, the addition of Newton brings experience to an offense that already has plenty of weapons.
Newton has started 139 games in the NFL, including 15 last year for the Patriots after his nine years in Charlotte, an era that included a Super Bowl run in 2015.
Walking into an offense with talented targets such as Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson could allow for a quick transition, and the familiarity with the first two can only help. Newton's ability to run also matters, since the Panthers have tried to establish that as part of their identity in recent weeks.
And clearly, the opportunity is there for this to make a significant impact.
At 4-5, the Panthers are still very much in the mix for one of the seven playoff spots available in the NFC. And with the way their defense is currently playing, raising the level on offense makes them a more difficult matchup in November and December.
The Panthers rank second in the NFL in total defense, fourth in third-down percentage, and sixth in sacks — remarkable improvements over a year ago. That's what they were hoping for when they spent the entire 2020 NFL Draft and significant resources in free agency and trades to bring in players such as Haason Reddick and Stephon Gilmore.
And with the additions of kicker Zane Gonzalez and punter Lachlan Edwards and improved coverage teams, the special teams units have improved significantly over the course of the season.
"My job is to try to win right now," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Wednesday afternoon. "Our fans aren't paying money to watch us win in two years. At the same time, you're trying to build a Super Bowl-caliber team. So it's a balancing act of doing what's right long-term and trying to win at the same time. Many times those are the same thing.
"There are four teams in the NFC with more than six wins. Everyone else is about like us. Lots of teams right now in the NFL are trying to figure out how to get past .500, and have a good year and win in the second half of the year. . . . My job is to try to win."
There are no guarantees the 32-year-old Newton could be a long-term answer. But this isn't about the years to come, or the things he's done in the past.
This is about now, and maximizing the opportunity for the 2021 Panthers.
View photos from Cam Newton's career in Carolina from his rookie year in 2011 through 2019. Newton is Carolina's all-time leader in nearly every quarterback statistical category.