- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2021

ASHBURN — It didn’t take long for the chatter to start regarding Cam Newton and the Washington Football Team.

After the New England Patriots surprisingly released Newton on Tuesday, coach Ron Rivera’s name started to trend on Twitter — what better destination for Newton than to reunite with his former coach with the Carolina Panthers?

But Rivera has twice passed on bringing Newton to the District. And on Tuesday, he was ready to do it for a third time.

“It did pop up on our radar, but just so you know, Ryan Fitzpatrick is our starting quarterback,” Rivera said. “So that’s where we are. We have three guys we like that all came to camp, did a nice job for us and we’re going to go forward with those guys.”

Context, of course, matters.

Newton is far removed from his peak level in Carolina, when he was league MVP and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl during the 2015 season and spent eight-plus seasons with Rivera.

The former No. 1 overall pick has been derailed by shoulder and foot injuries in recent years and his performance has suffered. Newton can still do damage with his legs, but the quarterback only threw for 2,657 yards in 15 starts last year — with just eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

Since arriving to Washington, Rivera has avoided a Newton reunion — despite bringing in plenty of other players and coaches with Carolina ties, including quarterbacks. Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke — Newton’s backups in 2018  — are currently on Washington’s roster.

Rivera already has had two chances to add Newton in free agency.

The first came in spring 2020 after the Panthers released Newton. Rivera said then that Washington wanted to see what it had in Dwayne Haskins, the 2019 first-rounder who the team later benched.

Then Newton was again a free agent this past March. Before re-signing with the Patriots, Newton even fueled the speculation by yelling out “Riverboat!” when former NFL receiver Chad Johnson brought up a possible reunion on his podcast.

Washington, though, went to sign the well-traveled Fitzpatrick while Newton went back to New England.

Rivera, meanwhile, smiled when he mentioned Fitzpatrick was the starter. That technically was the first time he acknowledged the obvious publicly, though he had done little to refute the notion during camp.

Rivera previously said he wanted a quarterback competition between Fitzpatrick and Heinicke, only for Fitzpatrick to take almost all the first-team reps in practice.

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