INDIANAPOLIS -- Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule says he "absolutely'' expects Cam Newton to be on his roster in September, but stopped short of saying the Pro Bowl quarterback would be his starter because he didn't want to guarantee any player a spot in his first season.
Rule, speaking philosophically, also wouldn't rule out trading Newton or any player if it meant improving the roster.
"I absolutely want Cam here," Rhule said on Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine. "There's no doubt about that."
This is the most definitive Rhule or any member of the Carolina organization has been about Newton playing out the final year of his contract since Newton had surgery for a Lisfranc injury in January.
Because the team is in a rebuilding mode under Rhule, there has been speculation the 2015 NFL MVP might be traded or released to clear $19.1 million under the salary cap.
But with Newton "trending," in Rhule's words, toward being medically cleared in March to begin offseason workouts, the former Baylor coach made it clear his current plan for 2020 included Newton.
"I know there's going to be a lot of questions about Cam," Rhule said as he began his question and answer session. "My son keeps calling and asking me questions. I figured I would address that right off the bat.
"From my perspective, I am unbelievably excited to get a chance to work with Cam."
Rhule said the focus is on getting Newton, who missed the final 14 games last season with the Lisfranc injury and the final two games of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, completely healthy.
"We need to get him cleared, but after that we really need to have a really, really disciplined return-to-play program so when he comes back he comes back at full speed," Rhule said. "I really don't care if he's full speed until September."
Rhule declined to speculate on a timeline for Newton's return to full speed.
Because of the uncertainty of when that will be, Rhule didn't rule out taking a quarterback with the No. 7 pick in April's draft.
"We're going to look for the absolute best fit for everything," he said.
As far as trading the 30-year-old Newton or any player, Rhule jokingly said: "I was teasing early I would trade my son Brian if it was for the right people. You have to have that mindset, right?"
Rhule also said Newton was a "special" player when healthy and would be a good fit for what he wants to build at Carolina.
"So really the only thing that matters is getting him healthy,'' Rhule said. "I'm excited to have him here. I want him to be here. I want to coach him."