The phrase bandied about in Foxborough last year in regards to the quarterback position was “uncharted territory,” a nod to Tom Brady’s advanced NFL age. Even though the 42-year-old Brady has followed the path of many New Englanders by fleeing south to Florida to enjoy his final years, the Patriots still find themselves in uncharted territory — figuring out life without Brady.
What they need is what Brady was going to be had he returned, a bridge QB to span the gap between a competitive present and uncovering the franchise figure for the future. Maybe that figure is Jarrett Stidham. The “Stid” hype train has picked up speed faster than a Japanese bullet train, but there is little evidence outside plaudits and platitudes that he is ready to assume the vacant QB throne.
But there is an ideal bridge quarterback available for the Patriots, one replete with Super Bowl pedigree and a burning desire to prove people wrong. His name is Cam Newton.
When Newton’s name was first invoked as a Fort Foxborough fit, I dismissed it. But the Case for Cam is legitimate. He has to reinvent himself, and so do the Patriots. Newton, cut by Carolina after injuries dimmed his brilliance, has something to prove, and so does Patriots coach Bill Belichick in Year One AB (After Brady). They can do it together in a mutually beneficial agreement that buys each time to reset the clock.
Newton is languishing on the free agent market because of concerns about his twice-surgically-repaired throwing shoulder and a Lisfranc injury to his left foot that limited him to two games last season while requiring surgery in December. The soon-to-be 31-year-old, who won NFL MVP honors in 2015, has significant mileage on him. He’s akin to a pitcher who overpowered opponents with 100-mile-per-hour stuff and now has to remake himself throwing 94 or 95.
What better place to do that than New England, working with Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a quarterback guru who has gotten the most out of Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton? Having Newton would also open up new play-calling possibilities for McDaniels. That option play near the goal line McDaniels tried to rip off from the Texans last season would actually work with Newton under center.
Newton can be rebuilt and reborn here.
On the surface, he doesn’t profile as the Patriots’ preferred passer. His career completion percentage is 59.6. Known for his Superman touchdown celebration, Newton has relied as much on his dynamic rushing ability as his quarterback faculties.
But if there’s any team that knows how accurate and formidable Newton can be, it’s New England. In two games against Belichick, Newton is undefeated, including a win at Gillette Stadium in 2017. He has completed 71.9 percent of his passes and thrown for 525 yards with six touchdowns and one interception against the Patriots. In addition, he’s rushed 15 times for 106 yards and a TD.
The way opposing players perform against him always sticks in Belichick's brain. Newton has enjoyed the upper hand against the Hoodie.
Before his career was sidetracked by shoulder woes and the foot injury, which he suffered last preseason at Gillette on a sack by Adam Butler, Newton had displayed progress as a passer. In 2018, under the tutelage of veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Newton completed 67.9 percent of his passes, threw 24 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, and posted the second-highest passer rating of his career (94.2) in 14 games, despite dealing with a shoulder injury that sapped his deep-ball prowess.
Following that season, Newton, who had a torn rotator cuff repaired in 2017, underwent arthroscopic surgery to address cartilage damage in his shoulder. There is an expiration date on Newton’s arm. But the Patriots don’t need him to be the long-term solution. He doesn’t have to be Superman. He just has to follow him.
Newton doesn’t come without concerns beyond the injuries. He has exhibited a pouty personality in the past, on and off the field. The 2011 No. 1 overall pick’s bumptious, ostentatious demeanor could put him at odds with the buttoned-down, bland culture of the Patriots.
Newton is a fierce competitor, but he can come off as entitled, self-absorbed, and a self-promoter. Superficially, he’s not a Belichick-type guy. That was pointed out by former Patriots vice president of player personnel and Certified FOB (Friend of Bill) Scott Pioli recently in a radio interview.
However, all Belichick really cares about is whether you can help his team win. The Patriots have welcomed flamboyant, outspoken, egocentric, recalcitrant, or ill-suited personality fits before. The list includes Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Darrelle Revis, and Martellus Bennett.
Last season, the Patriots traded for Michael Bennett and signed Antonio Brown. If Brown was suitable for Belichick from a character standpoint, then assimilating Newton shouldn’t be an issue.
The real obstacle to signing Newton would be financial. According to NFL Players Association records, the Patriots have $1.076 million in cap space. As Belichick has testified, we all know cap space can be maneuvered in a variety of ways.
Pride and bank account aside, it would behoove Newton to sign a short deal with the Patriots and play the long game. He could take what is in effect an incentive-laden one-year deal to play for the premier coach and the premier organization in the NFL. The Patriots could dress it up with voidable years or team options they don’t intend to pick up to save face for Newton and conserve cap space.
Newton would be the quarterback equivalent of the Revis Rental. He gets the Belichick seal of approval, rebuilds his value, then cashes in elsewhere. The Patriots get a QB capable of capitalizing on their aging win-now roster.
It's a win-win.
Who knows who will be throwing the passes next season for the Patriots, but they would be wise not to pass on Newton.