Jay Cutler

Choosing the Right Quarterback

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There are going to be a LOT of questions.

And the biggest question hanging over the head of Cameron Jerrell Newton has nothing to do with his ample physical attributes. It concerns his character.

After the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback threw hissy fits on the field and conducted a sullen post-game press conference off it following Super Bowl 50, his team’s coaches, administrators, and teammates have to be wondering if he’s the right guy for the job.

Some of them will issue words of support for Newton. After all, he led them to a 17-2 record. He won league MVP honors. The team has invested over $100 million in its star. And the positive talk is already unfolding, even as Newton defends his decision to walk out on reporters.

Cam’s our guy.

He’ll learn from this and come back stronger.

We have full faith in our quarterback.

What else are they going to say?

Of course they’re all harboring far different thoughts. They’re mulling the same things being considered of Robert Griffin III or Jay Cutler or Johnny Manziel, and how their considerable physical abilities, leadership and performance devolved into failure and weakness.

Are we looking at the right guy for the job?

The side-by-side snapshot at the top of this blog offers clues. It captures two men at two very similar moments in time.

On the right, Peyton Manning, fresh off an embarrassing quarterback rating of 24.4 and a 43-8 thrashing in Super Bowl 48. In the midst of what must be abject despair over an incredibly disappointing result, Manning looked presentable, and patiently answered questions from the media without a single hint of attitude. You cynics can go check the videotape.

On the left there’s Newton, hiding under a hoodie and wearing the league’s logo on his sleeve, after a rating of 55.4 and a 14-point loss in Super Bowl 50, moments before walking out in the middle of the post-game interview in which he delivered one-word answers. We’ve all seen that tape.

Who do you want leading your team?

The position of quarterback is so crucial. It must be agonizing as an NFL front office person, or player, or fan to come to the realization that your team doesn’t have the right guy. First, there’s the promise of Draft Day. Then, that one big pick eventually transitions into the patient process of either building toward championships…or continually falling short.

The middle of that process is just as important as the big decision on Draft Day. That’s where the Carolina Panthers are right now. In the middle. Next season will be Newton’s sixth pro year. It’s not too late for Newton to change his behavior. Or for the Panthers to change leaders.

You could argue that a more savvy customer under center this past Sunday might have secured a title for Carolina–or could do it next year if Newton doesn’t mature.

Ability is important, of course, but character is just as essential. For every Troy Aikman, John Elway or Joe Montana, there are dozens of Ryan Leafs, Jeff Georges and Matt Leinarts.

Maybe NFL personnel directors need to start paying as close attention to character as they do to raw skills. Maybe teams need to empower different people to make these big choices. Look outside the box. Hire body language experts, or FBI examiners, or really perceptive moms to ask tough questions and discern hard truths about these potential booms and busts.

Dave Coombs is still attempting to fulfill his radio potential as a morning host for 100.7 FM WUTQ.

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