Be grateful, Carolina Panthers fans.

You could have had Andrew Luck as your quarterback. You could be a week away from starting the 2019 season with, not only the upcoming season, but the entire franchise’s future hanging in the air thanks to a surprise retirement announcement.

The 2012 No. 1 draft pick shocked the NFL world on Saturday, announcing his retirement following the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

I want to say first, I have no qualms with Luck’s decision to hang up his cleats after seven seasons in the NFL. Football is a nasty sport after which many of its athletes experience a lifetime of chronic pain and other maladies.

Luck is in charge of his body, and he’s had enough of the pain that has come with his recent rash of injuries. And make no mistake, the former Stanford standout has dealt with his share of injuries the last few years.

According to The Athletic’s Zack Keefer, Luck’s injuries include torn cartilage in two ribs, a partially torn abdomen, a lacerated kidney, at least one concussion and a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

After missing all of 2017, Luck experienced a resurgence in 2018 with 4,593 passing yards that ranked fifth in the league and earned him a fourth Pro Bowl bid. The Colts finished the regular season 10-6 and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Here’s the thing, though. As much respect as I have for Luck’s decision, I can’t help but beam with pride in Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s physical resilience in this game. The 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick has certainly dealt with a share of injuries that measures up with Luck.

Newton has been remarkably durable, especially considering his physical, run-heavy style. It’s not like his frame is much of an advantage over Luck. Newton is 6-5, 245 pounds, while Luck is 6-4, 234 pounds.

According to sportsinjurypredictor.com, a database dedicated to monitoring professional athlete injuries and predicting future injuries, Newton has been particularly harangued with injury since 2014.

In March 2014, the former Auburn standout and NCAA national champion underwent surgery to tighten up his ankle ligaments. He missed that season’s training camp and most of the preseason. In the third preseason game, he suffered a hairline fracture on his ribs, snapping his streak of 48 consecutive games started for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Later that season, Newton was involved in a car crash in which he fractured two vertebrae in his lower back. He missed one game and returned to the field to lead the Panthers to a second straight NFC South championship. When the season was finished, Newton became the only player in NFL history to have 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his first four seasons and the first to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in four consecutive seasons.

In 2016, Newton suffered a concussion and a shoulder rotator cuff tear in week 14 against the San Diego Chargers. He finished the season and underwent surgery in the offseason. Newton avoided surgery in 2018 after suffering ligament and cartilage damage in his knee, but he couldn’t avoid his second shoulder surgery in two years late in the season. The Panthers shut him down for the final two weeks of the season before he underwent surgery Jan. 24.

Newton has never been mentioned in the same breath as Luck. The Colts signal-caller has been a better pure passer, averaging a 60.8 completion percentage and 3,945 yards per season, according to pro-football-reference.com. Newton has averaged a 59.7 completion percentage and 3,558 yards per season.

Newton also has a career 68-53-1 (.561) win-loss record in eight seasons, while Luck sports a career 53-33 (.616) record. Newton has three Pro Bowl appearances and Luck four. Newton has led the Panthers to three NFC South championships, four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth in 2016. Luck has led the Colts to two AFC South championships and four playoff appearances, with their best showing an AFC Conference championship berth in 2015.

I remember being sorely disappointed in 2011 when Luck announced he would return to Stanford for his senior year. The Panthers had the top pick in the draft and a huge need at quarterback. Newton was the obvious selection with Luck out, and admittedly, I wasn’t as high on the Auburn junior.

Those doubts were dashed in the 2011 season opener when his first NFL pass was a 77-yard bomb to Steve Smith Sr. I was hooked for life when he finished the game shattering the record for most passing yards in a rookie debut. His 422 yards in that Arizona Cardinals game broke Otto Graham’s record of 346 yards in his debut with the Cleveland Browns in 1950.

Newton has had his ups and downs in eight seasons. After his injury in the second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 16, after which he spent the next couple of days in a walking boot, there is considerable and justifiable doubt that the signal-caller will be in full form.

But at least he’ll be there. Even if he gets shut down for the season, you can bet the always enthusiastic Newton will be on the sidelines, frolicking like a puppy dog supporting his teammates.

It’s more than Colts fans will get this year. And for that, I’m grateful to have Newton as my team’s quarterback.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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