By STEVE REED
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman isn’t second-guessing the team’s decision to allow CAM NEWTON to continue to play last season despite a partially torn rotator cuff in his right throwing shoulder.
“Cam is a football player and he wanted to play and the medical people felt it was fine, so we did,” Gettleman said Friday.
Newton played the final three games of the 2016 season even though Carolina’s playoff hopes were essentially over because of its 5-8 record.
The Panthers hoped rest and rehabilitation this offseason would solve the problem, but that didn’t work out. The team announced earlier this week Newton would need shoulder surgery on March 30.
Newton will miss all of OTAs and minicamp, but Gettleman reiterated that he expects the six-year NFL veteran back in time for the start of training camp in late July.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last December that an MRI on Newton’s shoulder was clean after the team’s Week 14 win over the San Diego Chargers.
Although the team never disclosed the partially torn rotator cuff in the media, Rivera did limit the quarterback’s reps in practice and included him on the injury report for the remainder of the season.
“The bottom line is my integrity and the organization’s integrity is very important,” Gettleman said of the decision. “Our owner is old school and I’m old school so it makes it easy for me. At the end of the day it is what it is. We have been very transparent. I know that Ron is as transparent as any head coach in this league and I know I am as well.”
Panthers head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion told the team’s website, Panthers.com, this week that Newton will begin a throwing program 12 weeks after the surgery.
“Ryan laid out the plan and we are going with it,” Gettleman said.
The Panthers have drawn some criticism for the decision to allow Newton to continue to play while shutting down LUKE KUECHLY for the final month of the season even after the middle linebacker was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol.
But Gettleman said it’s not right to compare them as each injury is handled on a “case by case basis.”
Gettleman touched on a number of other issues during a 30-minute interview Friday:
– He said defensive end CHARLES JOHNSON is recovering from back surgery. He said the injury was something that occurred after the Panthers re-signed Johnson to a three-year contract. He added that wide receiver DAMIERE BYRD is also recovery from knee surgery.
– The team has signed running back JONATHAN STEWART to a one-year contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2018 season, the GM said. Financial terms were not released.
-The team plans to pick up the fifth-year option on KELVIN BENJAMIN‘s rookie contract, the GM said. That will pay Benjamin about $8 million in 2018. Gettleman said he was “really fired up” about the way Benjamin finished last season after battling back from knee and shoulder injuries earlier in the season.
-While defensive tackle KAWANN SHORT has not yet signed his franchise tag offer which would pay him about $13.5 million this season, Gettleman remains optimistic that will happen. In the meantime, the team will also continue to work on a long-term contract extension with Short’s representatives.
-Offensive tackle MICHAEL OHER remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol. However, Gettleman said Oher has been working hard to get back on the field and that his workouts “aren’t for the faint of heart.”
-And the GM also said he has no concerns about Kuechly returning next season for Carolina.
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