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Photo: The New York Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A tall, familiar figure with a black towel draped over his head made his way through the Carolina Panthers locker room on Monday as reporters entered for media availability.

Quarterback Cam Newton went to his familiar spot in the front corner of the room, slathered his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame with body lotion, as he always does, and then dressed in one of his signature outfits.

Then he disappeared through the locker room doors, almost as though the self-proclaimed “Superman” was walking off into the sunset.

This might have been the last time reporters got to see Newton in the room he’s commanded for much of the past eight seasons. The Panthers placed him on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday because the Lisfranc injury to Newton’s left foot has not responded to treatment.

For all the great things he has done over his career — winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, being named NFL MVP in 2015, and redefining the league record book for running quarterbacks — there are many reasons the Panthers likely won’t bring Newton back next season.

Here are a few:

Money

Newton has one year left on his contract. He’s 30 years old, but considering he’s been hit far more times (1,235) than any quarterback in the league since 2011, Newton is a mere shell of the player who defined the dual-threat quarterback role in the NFL.

The Panthers would save $19.1 million on the 2020 salary cap by moving on — cutting or trading their star player — from the five-year, $103.8 million deal Newton signed in 2015. They would carry only $2 million in dead money.

In today’s NFL, that’s a sound financial decision.

Production

Newton’s current salary is a team-friendly deal for a top quarterback. But Newton, who has lost eight straight starts, isn’t a top quarterback.

Since losing Super Bowl 50 to Denver in his MVP season, Newton ranks 30th in Total QBR (48.6), just behind Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and ahead of Blake Bortles of the Los Angeles Rams. Dalton recently was benched and Bortles is a backup.

Since Week 10 last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton’s Total QBR is 33.2, which puts him just ahead of Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s Josh Rosen.

Again, not good company.

Then there’s Newton’s bread and butter — running. He had minus-2 yards on five carries in the first two games this year. He rushed for more than 33 yards in a game only once in his last nine starts.

That’s not a winning formula for a player whose 4,806 rushing yards rank third in NFL history for a quarterback.

And there are no guarantees he will bounce back completely from the Lisfranc injury, which occurs when bones in the middle of the foot are broken or ligaments that support the middle of the foot are torn. It commonly occurs in football when a player steps on another player’s foot, or when a cleat doesn’t release normally from the turf.

A Lisfranc injury typically requires surgery, although surgery previously wasn’t recommended by Panthers doctors or other experts Newton visited. So this could be an issue that lingers.

Other needs

Running back Christian McCaffrey, who had taken over as the team “Superman” even before Newton’s latest injury, will enter his fourth season in 2020 and likely will want a hefty extension with the MVP-caliber numbers he’s posting.

The Panthers have other positions of need they can fill with the money saved from Newton’s contract.

Outside linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback James Bradberry head a long list of starters who are in the last year of their deals and will demand big extensions.

Edge rushers Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin and defensive linemen Gerald McCoy, Vernon Butler and Kyle Love also are on that list. Players in those positions don’t come cheap, even though most of the players in this group are in their 30s.

Face of the franchise

McCaffrey on Sunday was the last player to run onto the field during pregame introductions. That’s a spot normally reserved for Newton.

The eighth overall pick of the 2017 draft, McCaffrey also held his postgame news conference behind the podium in the media room. With only a few exceptions, Newton had been the only player to get that spotlight after games since 2011.

McCaffrey has replaced Newton as the face of the organization. No. 22 jerseys are starting to appear in the stands and on the street more than Newton’s No. 1. McCaffrey is on pace to have more than 2,400 yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns. He received chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the crowd on Sunday.

“I was chanting with them,” safety Tre Boston said. “It’s amazing. This guy is something we’ve never seen before.”

Quarterback Kyle Allen said it best: “[McCaffrey] is the heart and soul of our offense, heart and soul of our team.”

The replacement

Allen is 5-1 this season as the starter and 6-1 overall going back to last year’s finale against New Orleans.

He manages Norv Turner’s offense efficiently, having completed 60.7 percent of his passes this season with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.

Allen shrugged off his only loss, a three-interception performance at San Francisco, to throw for 232 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 30-20 victory over Tennessee.

He’s calm and typically doesn’t panic. He’s earning respect in the locker room with his leadership.

And with Newton on injured reserve, Allen no longer will have to answer questions about what might happen when Newton returns. For the final eight games, he’ll get his audition to be the long-term starter as the Panthers vie for a playoff spot.

The future

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November 5, 2019 at 06:56PM