CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Wednesday during a video conference that it was the "best thing for our team" to move on from quarterback Cam Newton and move forward with Teddy Bridgewater.
Rhule expressed appreciation for what Newton did for the organization since being the first pick of the 2011 draft. But in his first comments since Newton was released last month, Rhule indicated the decision had less to do with Newton's health and more to do with Bridgewater being a better fit for what offensive coordinator Joe Brady wants to accomplish.
Newton underwent foot surgery in December and last month was cleared medically.
"I have no doubt that he will play well," Rhule said of Newton. "He is a great quarterback, and we have all seen the things that he has done. I just think as we move forward, we thought this was the right time for us. We saw the opportunity to get Teddy and really felt like he was the right fit for us.
"We went ahead and made that call, not an easy call, but one we thought was the best one moving forward.''
The Panthers reached a three-year, $63 million deal with Bridgewater on March 17. That same day, the team announced Newton had been given permission to seek a trade. Newton, 30, then disputed the notion that it was what he wanted, saying on social media, "You forced me into this.''
Newton, who had one year left on his deal with Carolina, has not signed with another team since his release March 24.
Asked whether Newton's history of injuries over the past three years played a role in the decision, Rhule reiterated the ability to sign the 27-year-old Bridgewater.
"I don't want to make it too much about Cam in a negative way, because I have so much respect for him and the player that he is and the player that he will definitely continue to be," Rhule said. "To me it was just, at the end of the day, you have to make decision about what are we going to do moving forward.
"We felt like this was the time to go in this direction and bring Teddy on. His relationship with Joe, knowing the offense, the things that he has done in this offense just made sense to us."
Brady worked with Bridgewater during the 2018 season, when Bridgewater was in his first year as a backup for Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints and Brady was an offensive assistant. The two kept in contact last year, when Brady moved on to become the passing coordinator at LSU, which won the national title with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
Bridgewater went 5-0 in 2019 while Brees recovered from an injury to his throwing hand.
Getting Bridgewater at a time when the NFL is on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic made even more sense because of his relationship with Brady.
"Cam Newton is a great quarterback and can play in any system," Rhule said. "In a year like this, especially where we are all kind of in our homes, Teddy is a guy who has been in this offense, knows this offense and had great familiarity with Joe.
"It just made sense to us. But it's not a comparison to me so much as it is sort of an opportunity for us and we took it."
While Rhule acknowledged the biggest needs heading into the draft are on defense, he didn't rule out taking a quarterback at No. 7 or with a lower-round pick.
Carolina has talked to many of the top quarterbacks for the draft, including LSU's Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love, in addition to projected picks in the second, third or fourth rounds, such as Washington's Jacob Eason.
Rhule said he wasn't ruling anything out.
"I'd say, obviously, I don't know if that's our focus right now, a first-round quarterback," he said. "But at the end of the day, if a guy drops in your lap that you think -- at any position -- you think can change your team ... don't let need overtake what's the best thing long term.
"When you draft, you're not drafting for the next 12 months, you're drafting for the next four to five to six years and hopefully on."