- The Washington Times - Monday, February 22, 2021

“Listen, bro, I’m not 32!”

Cam Newton turns 32 in May, actually. But appearing on a podcast with retired wideout Brandon Marshall, the quarterback wasn’t talking about his age. He was discussing his standing in the NFL. He made his position clear: He doesn’t see 32 quarterbacks in the league better than him.

Newton’s thoughts on where he ranks in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks is just the latest indication the former MVP believes he’s got plenty of football left, despite a down year with the New England Patriots.

Others aren’t so sure — including the brazen teenager who harangued the quarterback at his own youth football tournament in a video that went viral over the weekend.

The young heckler’s comments were crude, but he’s certainly not the only skeptic when it comes to Newton’s football future. 

Newton, meanwhile, insists he has no intention of retiring. With the veteran quarterback set to be a free agent, others have wondered if Washington — and Newton’s former coach Ron Rivera — would be interested.

Earlier this month, Rivera sidestepped the topic. And in the podcast with Marshall, Newton largely did the same, except to yell out “Riverboat!” (Rivera’s nickname) when Washington was brought up and say it was “in God’s hands.”

Newton said after a rough season with the Patriots, he couldn’t bear to walk away now.

“I can’t go out like that,” Newton said. “I hear all of that talk. My pride won’t allow me to do it.”

Newton is in search of redemption after putting together some of the worst numbers of his career. The 31-year-old threw for just 2,657 yards to eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts with New England. The Patriots went 7-8 with Newton under center and benched him multiple times over the course of the season.

Specifically, Newton’s performance tailed off after catching COVID-19 last October. Over Newton’s first three healthy starts, the three-time Pro Bowler posted an 89.7 passer rating and was a threat with his legs, scoring four rushing touchdowns. But after his return, Newton’s passer rating dropped to 80.6. Newton said the virus affected his ability to learn the offense and the week missed put him behind.

It wasn’t the dream scenario that Newton envisioned when he first signed with New England. After the Carolina Panthers cut Newton last spring, Newton settled for a one-year, $1 million contract and a chance to revitalize his career under coach Bill Belichick. Belichick strongly supported Newton throughout the season, but Newton is not expected to return to the Patriots this offseason. 

Asked about Newton in January, Rivera said “nothing is off the table” for Washington and added the team would explore its options. Washington is in search of a quarterback who can elevate the team to the next step after a surprising playoff berth this past season.

But Rivera had a chance to sign Newton once the Panthers released him last year and notably didn’t. Beyond Newton’s play, there are concerns about his health as Newton has undergone multiple shoulder and foot surgeries. 

Rivera, though, said he wants a leader under center. Newton possesses those qualities. Look at how he handled the incident with his heckler over the weekend.

The teen, later identified as Jseth Owens, mocked Newton, telling him he was “poor” and mocked his soon-to-be free agent status. In response, Newton engaged in some light trash talk — “I’m rich,” he said with a smile — before asking where Owens’ father was. He wanted to speak about the boy’s behavior.

On social media, a wide number of athletes came to Newton’s defense. New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan said Ownes was “talking crazy”  and said he should have been kicked out of the camp. Philadelphia’s Darius Slay criticized the camper for not paying respect to Newton. Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette urged young athletes to learn from the video, specifically what not to do. 

Newton uploaded another clip from the event to Instagram that revealed footage of the quarterback asking the teen about his experience. In the caption, he wrote it would do him no good to get in a back-and-forth with Owens, who has since apologized.

“People want to see me arguing with another young man and to see me ‘get in my feelings,’” Newton wrote. “But the truth is this, I impact kids’ lives in a positive way. Make no mistake about it, I allow kids to realize their ‘out’ by using their football talents to get them to the next level and in most cases out of the hood.”

Newton did his best to cool the situation. Now, he can focus on other matters — like finding his next team — instead. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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