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Why the Rams and Panthers went for broke with Odell Beckham Jr. and Cam Newton

The Panthers needed quarterback Cam Newton and he knew it.Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

The Panthers’ David Tepper is the NFL’s richest owner with a net worth of approximately $14.5 billion, and was best known for displaying a set of brass balls on his desk.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke is a real estate and Walmart billionaire, moved his team from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and just spent $6 billion to build SoFi Stadium.

So it should surprise no one that the Panthers and Rams have made the most aggressive moves of the NFL midseason.

The 7-2 Rams are as all-in for a Super Bowl as perhaps any team in history. Already loaded on both sides of the football, the Rams added pass rusher Von Miller at the trade deadline, then won the Odell Beckham Jr. derby this past week.

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The 4-5 Panthers pulled off a shocker on Thursday when they signed Cam Newton to hopefully resurrect their season and undo the damage done by Sam Darnold, who is out for 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury.

The Rams’ additions are fascinating in that they didn’t cost much. The Rams gave up second- and third-round picks for Miller, but they have eschewed draft picks for veterans since 2017, and still have the NFL’s third-highest winning percentage (.685).

Miller also costs them just $722,000 the rest of the season, as the Broncos picked up most of the tab. Miller, who missed his first game as member of the Rams with an ankle injury, had 4.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits in seven games with the Broncos. He can be a disruptive force next to Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd.

Odell Beckham Jr. is a low-cost gamble for a Rams team with title aspirations.Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

As for Beckham, he signed with the Rams as a luxury, but he quickly became a necessity. On Friday, the same day Beckham signed, Rams receiver Robert Woods tore his ACL in practice. The Rams play three wide receivers more than any team, and now need Beckham to step in quickly, perhaps as soon as Monday night against the 49ers. The Rams, also have Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who leads the NFL in passing yards.

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Fortunately, Beckham didn’t cost the Rams much of anything. They didn’t have to trade any draft picks, and his contract is reportedly worth just $1.25 million, plus $3 million in team incentives.

The contract tells us that either the Rams’ allure is powerful — a great coach, a great quarterback, and the bright lights of LA — or that Beckham’s market wasn’t too hot.

Beckham, 29, hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2016. The fact that he couldn’t make it work in Cleveland — where he had a productive offense, a solid defense, and his best friend in Jarvis Landry — is troubling. Beckham hasn’t scored a touchdown in six games this year, and his 38.7 yards per game represent a career low.

Beckham collected $4 million from the Browns upon his release, but actually gave up $3.5 million guaranteed to get his freedom from Cleveland, which is practically unheard of. It appears that Beckham can be made whole, and potentially come out a little ahead, if the Rams win the Super Bowl.

The Rams are squarely in the mix for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but they sit in the No. 5 spot because they are one game behind the 8-1 Cardinals. The Rams didn’t just get Beckham, but also kept him away from the Packers, Saints, and other contenders.

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Beckham could also prove volatile and blow up the mix. He also has had injuries the last few years. But the Rams were smart to tie Beckham’s incentives to team performance. Beckham has only played in one playoff game in seven previous seasons, and a big postseason could help him with his next contract.

As for the Panthers, Newton was a move they had to make. Though they looked terrible last Sunday against the Patriots, the Panthers are still the NFC’s No. 8 seed, just a half-game behind the Falcons for the final playoff spot. The Panthers have a good defense, just added Stephon Gilmore and C.J. Henderson to the secondary, and have Christian McCaffrey and Robby Anderson on offense. Their one issue is at quarterback, where Darnold has been nonfunctional, and now injured.

Sam Darnold has been about as bad as it gets for the Panthers this season.Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

The Panthers can still salvage their season, and Newton is clearly a better option than backup P.J. Walker (3-of-15 passing this year), even considering Newton doesn’t know the playbook and hasn’t played since late August. It doesn’t hurt that Newton is beloved in Carolina, and mending this fence should help the Panthers win back some fans.

Newton probably won’t start Sunday against Arizona, though he may have a role. Most likely, his first start will come next Sunday against Washington and his former coach, Ron Rivera.

The Newton signing also shows how badly Tepper and coach Matt Rhule have botched the quarterback position since releasing Newton in March 2020. They spent $30 million for one season and four wins from Teddy Bridgewater, including $7 million of this year’s salary to play for the Broncos.

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The Panthers then wasted second-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks to trade for Darnold, then picked up his fifth-year option, which guarantees Darnold $18.9 million in 2022. The Panthers may have to pick up most of that tab to get anything in a trade for Darnold next offseason. Instead, they could have easily drafted Justin Fields or Mac Jones with the No. 8 pick.

Now the Panthers are giving Newton $6 million-$10 million for the rest of the season to bring a miracle to Carolina. It shows how Newton actually had a lot of leverage in the situation, despite the rest of the NFL not having much interest in him. The Panthers needed Newton back, and he knew it.

The contract takes the Patriots off the hook for the $1.5 million in guaranteed salary that they owed Newton for this season, and they will get a salary cap credit in that amount in 2022. Newton still keeps the $2 million signing bonus from the Patriots.

It seems a long shot that Newton will fly in like Superman and save the season for the Panthers, but how can you not root for him? He was likable in his one year in New England, and he wasn’t terrible this year in Patriots training camp, despite the public bashing he took after losing the job to Jones and getting cut. Newton also did the smart thing in eventually getting vaccinated, which likely helped him get this job with the Panthers.

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Newton may not have much left in the tank, and it can’t be easy coming into a new offense in the middle of the season. But I’m glad to see him get another chance.

HALFWAY THERE

Looking back on

first nine weeks

Penalties are back up after a significant drop in 2020.John McCoy/Associated Press

▪ Completion percentage and yards per attempt are slightly up from last year, while passer rating and total yards are down. The biggest difference is in scoring, with the NFL averaging 46.8 points per game this season, down from 49.6 last year, which is the most all time.

▪ Teams have never been more aggressive on fourth downs, with each game averaging 2.85 attempts, the most in NFL history. Last year, the record was set at 2.57 attempts per game. Teams are converting 50.8 percent this year, down from 55 percent in 2020.

▪ The average NFL game has 12.7 penalties, which is a significant increase from last year (11.2) but a significant decrease from 2019 (13.5) and lower than every season since 2013. It seems that 2020 was more of an outlier because of empty stadiums.

Offensive holding is way up from last year (2.57 per game compared with 1.77), but in line with previous seasons. Same with false starts — 2.25 this year compared with 1.93 last year, but similar to previous seasons.

The biggest change is in taunting, with 27 penalties called through 132 games this season, compared with 10 in 256 games last year and eight in 2019. The NFL continues to say that it won’t dial back on taunting penalties.

▪ The seven first-year head coaches have a combined record of 17-41 (.293). The Chargers’ Brandon Staley has the only winning record at 5-3, and Staley and the Falcons’ Arthur Smith (4-4) are the only ones whose teams would currently make the playoffs.

▪ Midseason award winners:

MVP — Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Has put up crazy passing and rushing numbers, and is the ringleader of the NFC’s No. 1 team.

Offensive Player of the Year — Rams WR Cooper Kupp. His 1,019 receiving yards through nine games are fifth-most in NFL history, plus he has 10 touchdowns.

Defensive Player of the Year — Steelers LB T.J. Watt. Second in the NFL with 11.5 sacks in just seven games, plus three forced fumbles and two recoveries.

Offensive Rookie of the Year — Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase. Third in the NFL with 835 receiving yards, fourth with seven touchdowns, and first at 19.0 yards per catch.

Defensive Rookie of the Year — Cowboys LB Micah Parsons. Has 52 tackles, 5 sacks, and 14 quarterback hits in eight starts.

Coach of the Year — Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals. Raise your hand if you had the Cardinals at 8-1 and the NFL’s best record. Now put your hand down and stop lying.

ETC.

All-around big year

for Patterson

Former Patriot Cordarrelle Patterson is doing it all for the Falcons.Butch Dill/Associated Press

Cordarrelle Patterson was a first-round pick by the Vikings in 2013, but he never developed into a full-time player on offense. He is one of the best kickoff returners in history, but his value on offense has mostly been limited to gadget plays and a part-time, Swiss Army Knife type of role. With the Patriots in 2018, Patterson played just 15 snaps per game.

But Patterson is having a career year in his first season with the Falcons and new coach Arthur Smith. Patterson, on his fifth team in nine NFL seasons, has set career highs in rushing yards (278), scrimmage yards (737), and offensive touchdowns (seven) — and he still has nine games to go. Patterson is playing 32 snaps per game and averaging 14 touches per game, also career highs.

Patterson’s scrimmage yards (92.1 per game) rank 15th in the NFL, and he is tied for ninth with seven touchdowns. Patterson also has 332 return yards on kickoffs.

“I feel like they are really embracing the guy I can be on the football field,” Patterson told the team website.

Dolphins bringing the heat

The Dolphins shocked the Ravens on Thursday night with a 22-10 win, and they did it by bringing the heat on defense. The Dolphins blitzed Lamar Jackson on 32 of 52 passing plays, and per NFL Next Gen Stats, the Dolphins blitzed their defensive backs 24 times, the most since the stat has been tracked over the last six seasons.

The Dolphins’ aggressiveness is nothing new. Brian Flores’s defense is responsible for six of the top 13 games in terms of most pass attempts against the blitz. They blitzed Josh Allen on 24 pass attempts on Halloween, second-most in any game this season (Dak Prescott, 27 against the Buccaneers in Week 1).

Jackson had 23 blitz attempts on Thursday against the Dolphins, and Tyrod Taylor had 22 blitz attempts in his loss to Miami last Sunday. The Dolphins also went blitz-happy against Mac Jones (20 attempts), Derek Carr (18), and Trevor Lawrence (17).

Before Thursday night’s game, the Dolphins’ defense had blitzed on 139 pass attempts, the most in the NFL and nearly double the league average of 76. They have been a little boom or bust, allowing six touchdowns with the blitz, while forcing three interceptions and nine sacks.

Are Seahawks going overboard?

Did you catch the comments this past week from the Seahawks about Russell Wilson and his return from an injured middle finger on his throwing hand? Wilson is on track to return this Sunday at Green Bay after missing the last three games, with the Seahawks going 1-2.

“This is a remarkable story of recovery,” coach Pete Carroll said last Monday. “It’s an amazing accomplishment to be back just throwing like he just did on the practice field.”

And here is Dr. Steve Shin, who performed the finger surgery: “Although this was unchartered territory (I have never in my career seen such a severe injury to the throwing hand of an NFL quarterback), I have also never encountered a player so committed to his postoperative therapy and with so much conviction to return to the same, if not better, level of performance as he had pre-injury. I am absolutely amazed at his progress, so much so that I can now confidently clear him for full return to play without reservation.”

Goodness. A bit much, wouldn’t you say? Seems like the Seahawks are doing all they can to smooth over the cracks in their relationship with Wilson, who went public with his discontent last offseason.

Extra points

The Saints made a run at Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after Jameis Winston's injury.Matt Patterson/Associated Press

Loved Mike Mayock as a draft analyst for NFL Network, but his first-round draft picks have been pretty rough in three years with the Raiders. Both of his first-rounders from 2020 were released in the last two weeks — receiver Henry Ruggs for killing a person in a high-speed DUI, and cornerback Damon Arnette for threatening someone with a gun on social media. Mayock also used the No. 4 pick in 2019 on Clelin Ferrell, who was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and has been a backup player all season … Scary situation in Minnesota this past week, with five players hitting the COVID-19 list and one vaccinated player going to the hospital with breathing troubles from a COVID infection. The Vikings did not identify the player, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported it was guard Dakota Dozier. “He’s stable now, but it was scary,” coach Mike Zimmer said. Zimmer said that 29 people in the organization are being subjected to additional testing because of the new cluster of cases … A league source said the Saints checked in with the Broncos and tried to pry Teddy Bridgewater away at the trade deadline following Jameis Winston’s injury, but the Broncos rebuffed the offer … The Chiefs didn’t seem to have much respect for Jordan Love last Sunday, blitzing him on 19 of his 36 passing plays in their win over the Packers. Love completed just 6 of 16 passes for 30 yards, a touchdown, and a sack against the blitz (plus two scrambles). Put it on Love for not getting the ball out quickly, but perhaps his offensive line didn’t help, either … Congrats to Patriots legend Andre Tippett, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas. Before he became a four-time All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1985), member of the 1980s All-Decade Team, and Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Patriots, Tippett was a consensus All-American at Iowa in 1981 and led the Hawkeyes to the 1982 Rose Bowl.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.