Bill Belichick signing a former No. 1 overall pick and one-time NFL MVP for a veteran minimum deal in the middle of June feels a little too on brand, but considering he had his dog Nike draft a Division II hybrid defensive back linebacker with his first pick after trading out of the first round, maybe the Patriots coach is just feeling himself this offseason.
Cam Newton is now a member of the Patriots, a surprisingly obvious conclusion for the last few months. The Patriots clearly believe in Jarrett Stidham, but Newton makes more sense as a replacement for Tom Brady. If he fails to live up to the lofty standards set by the 20-year Patriots quarterback, it means one of two things: Newton wasn’t healthy enough to perform or Stidham is good enough to beat out a healthy Cam for the QB1 role.
Neither of those things is a loss for the Pats at the price tag. This is an upside-filled, no-brainer move for New England. Will it work out? It’s literally impossible to know, because Newton’s health is an X-factor.
So let’s talk about Cam’s health.
What injury is he coming back from?
There’s a common perception about Newton’s health and how much he’s deteriorated over the last several years. Newton’s health is spoken about in a way indicating his body has betrayed him and he’s just completely fallen apart. People talk about him as being “broken.” It’s ridiculous. I absolutely take umbrage here — Newton has shown multiple times in the last two seasons that he’s close to being completely healthy.
Heading into 2018, Newton was at 100 percent. He spent the first eight games of that season playing outstanding football before suffering a shoulder injury against the Steelers in a blowout Thursday Night Football loss. Newton would never be the same until going under the knife in January 2019.
It’s my belief Newton was completely healed from his shoulder injury that offseason, but no one ever actually saw Newton throw the football much prior to him suffering a foot injury against the Patriots in the preseason. The Panthers downplayed it, but by Week 2 of 2019, something was clearly wrong. Newton re-aggravated the foot injury against Tampa Bay during a 20-14 loss that featured ugly weather. People wanted to focus on his inaccuracy because of the shoulder injury, but it was unquestionably the foot injury causing him to miss throws. Newton hardly stepped into anything that night.
via NFL Gamepass
It got worse after Newton came up limp late in the first quarter.
People claim “Cam wasn’t ever accurate” and point to the shoulder injury to suggest Cam is toast. Cam completed almost 68 percent of his passes in 2018 and 67.3 percent prior to injuring his shoulder in Norv Turner’s offense. He can be accurate in a reasonable offensive system. He wasn’t sailing everything against Tampa Bay because of his shoulder — he couldn’t step into anything with a crunked up foot.
Unfortunately for Cam, there’s no guarantee he comes back from foot injury in perfectly smooth fashion. CBS Sports’ Brady Quinn and I have talked about this a bunch on the Pick Six Podcast — Brady suffered a Lisfranc injury when playing in the NFL but didn’t have surgery on his foot until about a year ago. Obviously it’s not the same issue as Cam, but talking to Brady about it, there are clearly some issues adjusting to life after getting your foot surgically repaired, like how to adjust workouts, overcompensating for the foot injury and some mobility issues.
Again, I’m not saying Cam will battle those issues, but it would be surprising if the recovery was completely seamless and done with in just six months (he really should have had the foot surgery in October, but that’s a whole different story).
That’s precisely why New England convinced Newton to settle on a vet min deal jammed with incentives.
Why didn’t anyone else want Cam?
I got asked this roughly four billion times on the radio Monday in the wake of Newton’s deal with the Pats, and a large reason for the skepticism from people examining this deal is New England. Anywhere else with no offers and the anti-Cam crowd — and buddy is it a large crowd — is flying out of the woodwork to scream about how he can’t be accurate or run an NFL offense, blah, blah, blah.
The reality of the situation is New England was the only landing spot for the former MVP. Cam wanted a chance to start but couldn’t visit anyone for physicals during the early portion of free agency. If you want to play the rule-out game, you can rule out the Dolphins, Bills, Jets, Browns, Texans, Chargers, Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Redskins, Giants, Broncos and Cardinals because they all have young quarterbacks they recently drafted in the first or second round. The Colts, Titans and Buccaneers all signed quarterbacks this offseason. The Panthers cut Cam. The Bears traded for Nick Foles. The Falcons, Saints, Cowboys, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Packers, Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders, 49ers and Rams all have veteran quarterbacks.
That leaves the Pats and Jaguars as the only possible mutual landing spots for Cam. Jacksonville wants to see what it has in Gardner Minshew and is rebuilding. The Pats always made sense, especially with the way Belichick has long revered Newton.
“Not saying that there aren’t a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years, he’s the hardest guy to deal with,” Belichick said back in 2017. “He makes good decisions. He can run. He’s strong. He’s hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in ’13, so I would put him at the top of the list.
“Not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are, but he’s Public Enemy No. 1.”
Those are the kind of words reserved for one of Belichick’s Guys (Ed Reed, etc). Pretty clearly, Cam is on the Belichick Crush List.
What will this offense look like?
I’m absolutely fascinated by what the Patriots are doing this offseason. They just lost Tom Brady. The greatest quarterback in the history of football “left” (in my opinion he didn’t get asked back, like it was boarding school, but that’s also another story for another day) and they’re rebooting for the first time in the history of the greatest dynasty in sports history.
Belichick spends all offseason making overt gestures to indicate he’s ready to roll with Jarrett Stidham and then in the middle of the summer he picks up one of the most unique players the sport has ever seen for the vet minimum.
It’s so compelling and even more so when you consider how the Pats have been building this season. I’m firmly of the belief Belichick wants to run the living crap out of the ball this year, knowing an incredibly shortened and distanced offseason will make adding any sort of complex layers to his offense will make things more difficult for teams with limited amount of practices available. It makes sense — consistency is going to be king in 2020, but if you decide to kick 20 years of consistency to the curb, the obvious next move is to make things as simple as possible.
This already was in place before Newton came into play. The Patriots didn’t add a bunch of weapons in the passing game this offseason, instead deciding to toss the franchise tag on guard Joe Thuney (TBD if a deal happens, but that move is a pretty clear indication how important the run game is) and then spent two early draft picks on tight ends for the first time since 2010, picking up Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round of the draft. Sony Michel was 2018’s first-round pick and Damien Harris was a third-round pick last year; this shift has been happening longer than Belichick would like you to know.
My personal Stidham theory involves Belichick hoping he could recreate 2001, putting a strong defense in place with a good run game and getting some game management and clutch throws out of his young quarterback. People forget, but Brady didn’t come out gunning, he was a game manager who made an obscene number of clutch throws and smart decisions for the early portion of his career.
But Cam provided some very nice value and a ton of upside. And you know what makes a power run game immediately better? The threat of a quarterback who can run. If you’ve followed football the last 10 years you should know the math on it — when the offense is reading a defender it becomes 11-on-10 if you run the play correctly. That’s the sort of calculus/economics Belichick would probably have been involved in a decade ago if he hadn’t gotten to coach Brady for 20 years. (Aside: the Pats taking Michel instead of Lamar Jackson should be an all-time NFL What If?)
So now you give him Cam Newton, a former NFL MVP and, in my mind, the greatest rushing quarterback of all time. We haven’t seen peak Cam in a while, so it’s easy to forget, but this was the beginning of 2018. It wasn’t that long ago.
If Cam’s foot is healthy and he plays 16 games — not a given, but if — the Patriots will steamroll this division again. Go back and watch what Josh McDaniels did when Jacoby Brissett started against Houston in 2015 while Tom Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension. They opened with read option. And then the Pats proceeded to run Brissett 10 times in that game. Jacoby Brissett is a good quarterback but he’s not a fast runner. The purpose of the plan was to keep the Texans on their heels (it worked) and minimize the amount of the throws Brissett needed to make.
McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow in the first round when he ran things in Denver. It wasn’t for his passing prowess.
Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry aren’t overpowering anyone from an air attack standpoint. But Edelman is a perfect Cam receiver. He runs tight routes and has a surprising catch radius for someone his size. Cam can cut it loose and he’ll come down and keep running. Harry is red-zone monster who got unfairly dogged last year because A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel (the latter a PERFECT Patriots player if there ever was one) blew up while Harry didn’t do much for the Pats.
If Cam is healthy the Pats are gonna have some wild stuff to work with offensively, and most if it won’t force them to get out of their base offense. Go 12 personnel with two tight ends, pound the ball, run some funky stuff with Cam, score 21 points and let your defense take over.
So what’s the big takeaway?
The funny thing about Cam Newton is he spent just about every single day of his life from the moment he stepped foot on Florida’s campus until now being a lightning rod. There are a million reasons and a bunch of them aren’t football related. Some mom wrote a letter to a Tennessee newspaper complaining that Cam had too much fun on the field. There has never been a time in Cam Newton’s football career where people didn’t yell about whatever he was doing.
And then Bill Belichick signed him. We all agreed it was a great move.
Cam should win this job, unless a) he’s not healthy or b) Stidham is a monster. Either way is a win for Belichick, because he gets a free roll with the most dynamic red zone threat to ever play professional football. A healthy Cam feels difficult because of how long it’s been since we saw 16 games, but it’s not far-fetched. Imagine thinking Belichick finally lost Brady and then somehow got healthy Cam for a couple seasons. The AFC East has been licking its chops for a few years now, but that hubris might have been misplaced. The boats, they might beat ceaselessly.