The Patriots again have the most accomplished quarterback in the AFC East on their roster.
After having Tom Brady at the controls for the last two decades — and six Super Bowl victories — New England replaced him with another former MVP, signing Cam Newton to a one-year, incentive-laden contract Sunday night.
The move to acquire Newton was nearly as surprising as Brady leaving as a free agent in March.
It’s been a precipitous drop for Newton, the NFL’s MVP in 2015, since he led the Panthers to a 6-2 start in the 2018 season.
Multiple injuries, a huge looming payday, and a coaching change combined to spell doom for Newton’s nine-year Carolina run, which also included a trip to Super Bowl 50 and three Pro Bowl invitations.
Newton lost his final six starts in 2018 — he was placed on injured reserve before the last two games — as he struggled mightily with a right shoulder injury that required a pair of surgeries.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 248-pound Newton was poised for a bounce-back season in 2019, but that was derailed when he suffered a Lisfranc injury in an August exhibition game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
He was able to start the first two games of the regular season — both losses — before the foot injury worsened and he was again placed on injured reserve.
Newton, 31, made no secret that his desire was to remain in Carolina.
When the organization announced it had given Newton permission to seek a trade — this after new coach Matt Rhule signed QB Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract — Newton disputed the wording, saying he never asked for a trade.
“You forced me into this,” Newton posted on Instagram at the time.
When the team was unable to find a trading partner, Newton was released, saving the Panthers $19.1 million against the salary cap. He had been scheduled to make $21.1 million in 2020, the final season of a five-year, $103 million contract.
“They gave up on me,” Newton then posted on Instagram.
Newton posted a video to YouTube Monday night titled “Farewell Carolina, Hello New England.” Newton tries to clarify the narrative of what led to his exit from the Panthers.
”Don’t believe the hype,” he said. “I never once said, and I’ll say this, never once wanted to leave Carolina. Don’t let them make you believe. It was their decision. I stuck with it and I knew that, so I asked for a trade.”
Newton, the biggest name on the free agent market, sat unemployed for nearly three months before agreeing with the Patriots on a pact that has a maximum value of $7.5 million.
By taking a short-term, short-money (comparatively speaking) deal, Newton is betting on himself. If he wins the Patriots’ starting job and performs well, he could be in line for a bigger payday in 2021. As a comparison, Tennessee signed 31-year-old Ryan Tannehill to a one-year, incentive-laden contract in 2019. He eventually supplanted Marcus Mariota as the Titans’ starter and led them to a berth in the AFC Championship game. Tannehill re-signed with Tennessee for four years and $118 million on March 15.
Newton has been regularly posting video of his workouts on social media, and they depict a motivated man with a chip on his shoulder. He has been working with standout Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The deal also is a win-win for New England. If Newton can quickly fit into the offense, the Patriots’ winning ways should continue. Even if Newton is around for just one season, it could serve as another year of seasoning for Jarrett Stidham.
If Newton, who is the subject of an upcoming podcast miniseries, “The Cam Chronicles,” due out July 13, doesn’t win the job or even a roster spot, he can be released without the Patriots taking a huge financial hit.
Newton arrived in the NFL as the top pick in the 2011 draft on the heels of a Heisman Trophy-winning season in which he led Auburn to the national championship.
He was brash, with a big arm and elite athleticism. He is arguably the greatest dual-threat QB the league has ever seen, passing for more than 29,000 yards and 182 touchdowns and rushing for nearly 5,000 yards and 58 more scores.
Though he has cut down on his deep, cascading spirals, Newton in recent seasons became a more polished touch passer in the offense run by coordinator Norv Turner.
This could translate well into the schemes run by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, many of which are predicated on getting open quickly. New England has a lot of grab-and-go players on offense, including receivers Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu and running backs James White and Rex Burkhead.
Although Newton’s body has paid a heavy toll for his scrambling over the years, he still has life in his legs and will be able to keep plays alive with his light feet. His exceptional size allows him to be a force in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
If he can stay healthy — and that’ll be a caveat that will follow him until he proves he is — Newton will have a great shot to beat out Stidham, Brian Hoyer, J’Mar Smith, and Brian Lewerke in training camp.
With the Patriots and Bills the presumptive favorites in the AFC East, their two matchups would have added intrigue if Newton is the New England starter. Buffalo is coached by Sean McDermott, who has an intimate knowledge of Newton’s strengths and weaknesses after serving as Carolina’s defensive coordinator from 2011-16.
Newton has a flamboyant, flashy personality and a distinctive fashion sense; his postgame outfits are loud and legendary. Newton was benched by then-coach Ron Rivera for the start of a 2016 game against the Seahawks for failing to wear a tie on the team’s flight to Seattle.