In a candid conversation released Monday, Cam Newton shared his thoughts on Bill Belichick, contracting COVID-19, and his future in the NFL with former players Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson, and Fred Taylor on the “I Am Athlete” podcast.
It was Newton’s most illuminating conversation yet about his first season as a member of the Patriots after he took over for Tom Brady — a job Taylor called “the hardest in the [expletive] country.” (Newton agreed.)
Newton compared stories with the three athletes. Johnson and Taylor each spent a short amount of time in New England and had some background on the inner workings in Foxborough. Newton also talked about where he’d like to play next season.
Here are 10 takeaways:
Replacing Tom Brady was ‘the hardest job in the [expletive] country’
Taylor said Newton “took the hardest job in the [expletive] country, following Tom Brady.”
“I did, but hear me out though,” he said. ”What other options did I have?”
Newton said he didn’t have many options after “intimidating” the Carolina Panthers, his previous team.
“I intimidate a lot of people,” he said. “And honestly, I intimidated the franchise I was at. Let’s keep it a bean. Let’s keep it a hundred. Everybody’s not used to knowing who they are and not being moved or bothered by it, right? And for me, that’s where I stand up the most.
“A lot of people look at me from afar and say, ‘He’s flamboyant. He’s this. He’s that.’ I want you to think like that. I’m from Atlanta, Ga. I’m a finesser. I’m a chameleon. I know how to make a way.”
Newton added: “By the time I got released, the only place that made sense for me, for my career, was New England.”
Newton is open to a return to New England
Newton was asked if he’d be interested in returning to the Patriots despite a difficult first season. The Patriots finished at 7-9.
“Yes, hell yes,” Newton said. “I’m getting tired of changing, bro. I’m getting to a point in my career where I know way more than I knew last year.”
Johnson said that if Newton did return, the Patriots would have to bring in better receiving options.
Newton appeared to acknowledge that, but he also thinks having a year under his belt with the current receivers helps a lot.
“Now, you give me what you just said? Even that, a system with me. Like, they know me,” Newton said. “Doughboy [N’Keal Harry] knows me. Jakobi [Meyers] knows me. Bud [Damiere Byrd] knows me. The young tight ends know me. The younger guys that are going to come in know me. Like, we’re still trying to flush out the 20 years of how it used to be. And I’m going in and I’m saying, ‘That’s not me.’ ”
Marshall followed up with a couple of questions.
“Is there a chance you’ll return to New England?”
“There’s always a chance for everything,” Newton said.
“I can’t say that,” Newton said before laughing, acknowledging that he doesn’t want to share any potential negotiations he’s having.
Newton believes Bill Belichick is the most misunderstood person in sports
If you listened to Newton’s press conferences throughout the season, you would gather that he is a fan of Belichick. He confirmed that.
“I think Bill Belichick is the most misunderstood person in all of sports,” Newton said. “He dope as [expletive]. He dope as [expletive]. Like, he is a cool dude. He understands the game. He’s a historian of the game. Just for you to sit and chat with him, it’s like, ‘Damn.’ He’s going back and he’s got film teaching the game.”
Marshall brought up how Belichick is sometimes perceived to be “cold” toward players. Newton disputed the notion.
“Nah, Bill’s not cold,” Newton said. “Josh [McDaniels] isn’t, either. Nobody’s on that team where you have an aura where you don’t want to be around him. Everything is geared to win. And if you’re not built for that, that’s not the place for you. That’s not the place you want to lose, either. I learned that the hard way.”
Newton said he had only one COVID-19 symptom
Newton was sidelined just three games into the 2020 NFL season after testing positive for COVID-19. The diagnosis, which came days before the Patriots were set to face the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, was a shock.
“I got the phone call at 5 in the morning. It was Saturday, so I didn’t need to be up that early,” Newton said. “Usually, everybody knows the football schedule, Saturdays are just walk-throughs. We got a later start time, and when the phone call came, I thought I was dreaming.
“The athletic trainer called me and told me I tested positive. I didn’t even know what to think. My cousin, who serves with me as my assistant, was with me at the time and it was a matter of time [before he got it] because we live together.”
Newton thought he may have had a false positive at first because he didn’t feel any symptoms until his cousin brought something up to him.
“The only thing I would say that really hit me was my smell,” he said. “I really couldn’t smell. I didn’t realize that until my cousin brought it to my attention. I was like, ‘Man, I really can’t smell.’ It didn’t dawn on me that I lost my smell.”
Newton said COVID-19 affected his play, but not in a physical way
Newton said there were effects of the virus he dealt with when he returned to the field.
Newton compared returning to the team to being part of a long-distance road trip with several other cars and being the lone car in the group to leave the highway to get gas, only to return to find everyone has driven away.
“By the time I came back, I didn’t feel comfortable … skillfully,” Newton said. “And a lot of that discomfort came pre-snap. I’ve always valued my talents as something that’s an improv. Like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a play. I know how to make a play.’ In this system, it dictates by certain things and working with Josh and [quarterbacks coach] Jedd [Fisch] at the time.
“Throughout those times, there was times where it was just like, ‘Hold on, set 180. Wait, am I supposed to set 1-8-what? Hold on.’ I was thinking too much. Going back to that analogy, the offense kept going and I was stopped and stagnant for a week, two weeks.
“By the time I came back, it was new terminology. I was like, ‘Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Let’s go back to No. 1.’ I wasn’t trying to learn the system for what it was. I was learning a 20-year system in two months.”
Newton came to the defense of McDaniels
Newton’s interviewers brought up the quarterback’s performance against the Seahawks in Week 2. In that game, Newton had a chance to run in for a touchdown at the 1-yard line as time expired to give the Patriots the win. The Seahawks stopped him.
Marshall stated his displeasure for the call, calling it “terrible” because they “did it the last two, three, four times in a row.”
Newton was quick to step in to defend his offensive coordinator.
“I can’t let you do that,” Newton said. “Mickey D’s [McDaniels], that’s my dog.
“Here’s the thing about football. Here’s the thing about sports, about analysis and critics. Looking back at it, of course. If it had worked, then you’re asking [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll, ‘How could you not stop this play? We ran it numerous times.’ If you’re playing the Lakers, you know who’s about to get the ball. If you’re playing Golden State. Chicago, back when.
“So for me, I’m like if the ball [was] with anybody else, it was a sin. That’s just my theory. That’s just my thinking.”
Marshall’s criticism of McDaniels didn’t end there. Marshall recalled his time in Denver, where McDaniels was his head coach for a season. He voiced his dislike for McDaniels’s use of him and said he believed McDaniels was running a poor version of “The Patriot Way.”
“He’s not ‘Baby Bill’ without Bill. He has his own way,” Newton said in response to Marshall.
Newton gave us his definition of ‘The Patriot Way’
Newton has his own definition of “The Patriot Way,” and opined on how the approach affects players in the franchise.
“There’s a real thing when they say, ‘The New England Way,’ ‘The Patriot Way,’ ” Newton said. “It’s an aura where you’re a machine, literally. When I did one of the games, I gave them my routine. I’m waking at 4:20 a.m. just to get out of the house by 4:45 a.m. I already have my outfit picked out, I’m going to be fresh.
“I’m walking into the facility at 5:15, 5:20 a.m. At the same time, you’ve got to compartmentalize your feelings, compartmentalize your personal life, compartmentalize everything to enhance your mental stamina. It doesn’t matter if it’s 8 o’clock at night, we have to watch film. We have to get certain things done.
“We all know who I was behind. I wanted to make sure I gave everybody confidence knowing I was doing everything right. It already came natural.”
Belichick’s favorite word is ‘moron’
Newton said he found the communication between players and coaches on the Patriots a bit different — more confrontational — than on other teams.
Taylor agreed, and knew exactly what Newton meant.
“Were you ever considered a moron? That’s Bill’s favorite word,” Taylor said. “His favorite saying is ‘You’re a [expletive] moron.’ Everybody’s a [expletive] moron [to Belichick]. I ain’t no [expletive] moron. It’s his favorite word, but I was never [a moron].”
Johnson said he would’ve done “nothing” if Belichick had said that to him and recalled how he saw Belichick and Brady “going at it cussing each other out on the field,” on his first day.
Newton said that’s not his style, but he grew accustomed to it.
“I’m not an argumentative person; I’m like, ‘Coach, let’s figure it out,” ' he said. “That example you used, that’s normal every day. Like arguing, that’s how the competitive drive. That’s how they communicate.”
Newton still feels he can play at a top level
Toward the end of the podcast, the conversation steered toward Newton’s eventual retirement from football. Taylor cited a report that said Newton could retire if the options he wants aren’t there. Newton disputed that, saying he “can’t go out like that.”
Marshall brought up the arm injuries Newton has dealt with in recent years and asked him if he still thinks he can be “Superman.”
“Hell yeah. [Expletive] yeah,” Newton said with a smile. “I understand [why you’re asking]. You’re doing your job. Hear me out, I hear all that. I ain’t never been a favorite.
“You only have a certain amount of options. Given the hand I was dealt. Last year, [they were asking] ‘Is he healthy?’ I just wanted to finish healthy. Now it’s like, ‘Am I able to learn a system?’ Like, c’mon, bro. I can’t go out like that. My pride won’t allow me to do that.”