Inside the Panthers' Cam conundrum: Why Newton could leave, where he could go

Is Allen the Panthers' long-term solution at QB? (1:03)

Louis Riddick breaks down why the Panthers have liked having Kyle Allen at quarterback in place of an injured Cam Newton. (1:03)

He can't go out like this. Not Superman.

Cam Newton, a quarterback whose presence can be more imposing than that of most defensive ends, should be prepping for a second Super Bowl run and savoring his prime years at age 30.

Instead, a combination of poor play, mysterious injuries and the respectable performance of Kyle Allen have left many wondering how a former MVP becomes a potential salary-cap casualty or trade bait. The bedazzled hats, double-take touchdown dives and ear-to-ear smiles can't mask the toll of Newton's 597 hits since 2015, the most of any NFL quarterback during that span -- and 25 more than Russell Wilson, who has started 14 more games.

"He hasn't been the same since the Super Bowl," one AFC exec said.

Newton's football story is far from at its conclusion. The aftermath of Newton's wasted year on injured reserve is sure to send ripples through the league in 2020, whether Newton stays in Carolina or starts for a new offense. Newton is staying quiet about his injury, offering the simple message "Charlotte is home" at his Thanksgiving event last week. And there's really no decision for Newton or the Panthers to make right now. He's entering the last year of a five-year, $103.8 million extension that has run out its guaranteed money.

With reporting from around the league and help from ESPN Stats & Information, let's attempt to sort out the Cam conundrum from all angles.