Now it’s real.

Cam Newton has been shown the door, and he’s not happy about it.

Nor are many Panthers fans, who now know that an era unlike any in franchise history has ended.

Carolina announced this morning that Newton “has permission” to seek a trade to another team. In other words, thanks for playing.

The reaction was swift and sharp, not just from fans across the region but from the quarterback himself.

“Stop with the word play,” Newton posted in a comment on the Panthers' Instagram account immediately after the news went out. “I never asked for it. There is no dodging this one; I love the Panthers to death and will always love you guys. Please do not try to play me or manipulate the narrative and act like I wanted this. You forced me into this.”

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We have given Cam Newton permission to seek a trade

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You could sense this coming, and you knew it wouldn’t end well, but the jarring end is ugly and likely to play out in public. While the Panthers tried to minimize the announcement, this changes everything.

Once again, Carolina has a public-relations nightmare, and this one cuts to the core of the team. Newton wasn’t just the quarterback, he was the face of the franchise. The Panthers are now starting over from scratch, and it will be interesting to see how long the fans are willing to play along.

David Tepper, the owner of the franchise and certainly the man who made this decision, tried his best to paint it in softer tones.

“Cam is one of the all-time greats in Panthers history,” he said in a statement. “If you ask any of our fans for some of their most memorable moments, I’m willing to bet that most of them would include Cam, electrifying plays, giving away footballs after touchdowns, fun celebrations and big wins. His competitiveness and drive are rare. Off the field, you can’t measure Cam’s contributions. He has touched the lives of youth throughout the Carolina’s and in Atlanta. He is unique, and I wish him all the best.”

That right there shows a lack of understanding of what Newton meant to the team and the community. “One of the all-time greats” is an insult. Newton transformed the franchise, taking it on a wild ride that ended in a Super Bowl. He was, for a time, the face of the entire NFL.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season was the greatest season any Panthers player has ever had, and it was one of the greatest breakout seasons of any quarterback in NFL history.

Granted, that was five years ago. The NFL is a cold-hearted league. But still, “I wish him all the best” suggests this was a decision made long before now and one with no recourse.

The Cam Newton Era is over in Carolina.

And that’s a shame, really. Panthers fans know better than any how fleeting success can be. Despite two Super Bowls in the 25-year history history of the team, Carolina has never had two straight winning seasons. And despite winning seven division titles over that period, Carolina never made it into the conversation of the best franchises in the league.

Except for the year Newton dragged the Panthers into that conversation, a brief time that put Carolina in rare air while angering many NFL fans who weren’t ready for Newton or his antics.

To be fair, he confused Panthers fans, too, with his odd wardrobe, his strange interviews and his inability to stay healthy. Newton, 30, missed 14 games last season because of a Lisfranc injury, and he missed the last two games of 2018 because of a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Times have changed now. Carolina has decided it couldn’t wait to see if the former league MVP could regain his flash and his speed, traits that made him unlike any quarterback in league history.

The team decided it wasn’t worth the money or the risk of rebuilding around an unknown injury situation in a time of transformation for the franchise. And adding insult to injury, Carolina is negotiating with Teddy Bridgewater to be Newton’s replacement.

If the reports are accurate, the Panthers will give the Saints backup quarterback $20 million a year to replace the greatest player in Panthers history. The optics alone are terrible.

Newton deserved better than to have all this play out in one day, in part because Tepper knows that one day the team will have to invite him back, probably to retire his jersey and to welcome him into the Hall of Honor.

He’s a rare character who just might make the Panthers squirm for a few years. He just might make them regret this cold-hearted decision.

But knowing Newton, he’ll indeed come back smiling and happy and just a little weird.

You’re going to miss him whether you want to admit it or not. And so will the Panthers.

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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