Is Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton an eventual Hall of Famer?

Did Cam Newton do enough in his prime years as an elite dual-threat quarterback with the Carolina Panthers to deserve enshrinement into the Hall of Fame? Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton doesn’t have any immediate plans to join fellow quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in retirement. The 2015 NFL MVP still believes he can play at a high level, whether that’s for the Carolina Panthers or another team.

When Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer last spoke to reporters in January, he said the Panthers were open to bringing Newton back, even though that seems unlikely, as they are building for the future.

But let’s say Newton, 32, does retire in the next year or so.

Would he be a legitimate candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the required five-year wait for eligibility after retirement? Would he ever be a legitimate candidate for the shrine that will name its 2022 class on Thursday?

Said one long-time Hall of Fame voter bluntly: “No. He’s not a Hall of Famer.’’

Said another: “Steve Young once told me that, like it or not, quarterbacks are judged by their jewelry.’’

Newton is known for his style, but in terms of jewelry (aka Super Bowl championship rings), he has none. Young, on the other hand, was a three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP.

Newton lost his only Super Bowl appearance to the Denver Broncos after the 2015 season, completing only 18 of 41 pass attempts with one interception and no touchdowns. He also lost two strip-sacks in the 24-10 loss.

He was highly criticized -- by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Theismann to two-time Super Bowl champion Phil Simms -- for not attempting to recover the second fumble with the game still on the line.

That also could work against Newton.

However, not all voters believe it’s that cut and dry. One can see Newton being enshrined because he did things no other quarterback had done.

He is arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in NFL history. The player who dubbed himself “Superman’’ when he entered the league was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, becoming the first rookie to pass for more than 4,000 yards.

In 2015, he became the first Black quarterback to outright win the NFL MVP after leading Carolina to an NFL-best 15-1 regular-season record and ultimately a trip to the Super Bowl. (Steve McNair was a co-MVP in 2003.)

Newton has by far the most rushing touchdowns of any quarterback in NFL history with 75. Otto Graham, who is in the Hall, is second with 44.

Newton also owns career quarterback records for rushing attempts (1,118) and rushing touchdowns in a season (14 in 2011). He has more rushing touchdowns than Hall of Famers Earl Campbell, Thurman Thomas, Larry Czonka, Terrell Davis and O.J. Simpson -- all of whom were running backs.

Newton was so impressive in 2015 that Young said the quarterback had reached “rare air.’’

“I wish I was 6-5 and [260 pounds] and could fly,’’ Young said at the time. “Cam has always been an incredible physical challenge for NFL defenses. Now they’re in real trouble because he’s become an intellectual challenge for defenses.’’

Working against Newton is that over the six seasons since reaching the title game, he’s had one winning record -- 11-5 in 2017 -- and he has a cumulative record of 30-36 during that span. He has lost his past 13 starts for the Panthers dating back to 2018, including 0-5 this past season after rejoining the team that cut him in 2020.

He ranks 12th in passing yards and 13th in passing touchdowns since entering the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and information. During that span, he ranks 36th in total quarterback rating among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts.

His 75 total wins would be the fourth fewest among Hall of Fame quarterbacks since 1950. Only Joe Namath (62) Kurt Warner (67) and Sonny Jurgensen (69) have fewer, but each won a Super Bowl or NFL title.

Also working against Newton, according to another voter, would be the crowd of quarterbacks coming to the ballot in the relatively near future. Among those are Brady, Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Eli Manning ... and eventually Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.

How Newton is viewed among quarterbacks who flourished in this era of read-option and RPOs with so many called runs also will be a factor. Newton’s stats are similar to those of McNair (who won an MVP and went to one Super Bowl).

McNair has yet to be a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame. Some would argue his numbers, that included 91 wins, would have been even more impressive had he played in the current era in which quarterbacks have more designed runs.

And McNair's teams were 29 games over .500 in games he started. Newton’s teams are seven games over .500 at 75-68-1.

Right now, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. has a better resume than Newton to become the first homegrown Panthers player to make the Hall, though the former he wasn't a finalist this time, in his first year of eligibility.

Newton very well may have to play at a high level for another few years to become Hall of Fame worthy. He may have to win a Super Bowl or at least get back to another one.

“Yes, championships are key,’’ said one Hall voter. “Especially for the quarterback position.’’