Cam Newton and the Patriots? It's a marriage of convenience

Cam Newton and the Patriots? It's a marriage of convenience

The Patriots signing Cam Newton to a one-year, incentive-laden deal can be summed up in six words.

“What do we got to lose?”

And that goes for both sides.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Newton had no better options. The Patriots? Well, they may have no better quarterbacks, since the battle currently is between The Project (Jarrett Stidham) and The Journeyman (Brian Hoyer).

Getting a former MVP to take a lowball deal, even if he does wear absurd hats and — in recent years — couldn’t hit water if he threw it from the end of the dock? What’s the harm in that?

What if it works? Hell, it’s 2020. You really can’t rule out anything this year, can you?

In April, this was something that — while not ruled out — was deemed a remote possibility. Post-Brady, conversation about the Patriots’ quarterback group would turn inexorably back to Newton. Sources told me I was safe to assume that wasn’t happening.

Yet it still kept bubbling up, most notably with former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi writing for The Athletic.

"Still, if Newton’s medical and price tag aligns with the Patriots’ salary cap thinking, I would never rule them out as potential suitor," Lombardi wrote. "Newton could play well in New England. He would have to accept the structure and culture, but his love of football and his love of winning would allow him to adapt."

Seemed like a lot of “Ifs” to clear. But with July upon us, they’ve apparently been cleared.  

“Only makes us better,” a source told me Sunday night. “The best man will play.”

The Patriots now have three very different options who’ll show up at camp at the end of July. Theoretically.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

Stidham is a fourth-rounder with great arm talent, nice leadership skills and very little experience. That train is going to bring a bumpy ride but may wind up in a nice spot. Hoyer knows what he can and can’t do. He won’t lose games for you. Neither will he singlehandedly win them. Newton? He can do that. Or he used to.

Newton’s been collecting dust since the Panthers released him on March 24 after failing to find a trade partner. Which was somewhat understandable. Newton was a soon-to-be 31-year-old quarterback who played in just two games last year because of a Lisfranc injury (midfoot if you don’t want to Google it). In both 2017 and 2018, he was less-than-Cam because of a shoulder injury. In 2016, he just sucked.

So, being four seasons removed from his MVP season in 2015, coming off a five-year, $103-million deal and likely expecting to be the starter, it seems teams figured he was too beat up, too expensive and the wrong fit.

But for the cash-strapped Patriots? Even if he’s a bit offbeat, not real accurate and makes Jarrett Stidham jumpy, who cares? The Patriots starting job isn’t exactly Stidham’s birthright. He’ll get over it. And if he doesn’t, well he wasn’t the right guy. And Brady was a bit eccentric.

As for Newton's accuracy? That’s an issue.

Which is why I don’t see Newton as being the easy favorite to win the job.

Even if the Patriots look different offensively than they did with Brady, accuracy, decision-making and treasuring possessions are still the coin of the realm. Newton — and Stidham — will be able to do things with their legs that Brady couldn’t. But neither will be able to do things pre-snap, post-snap, on-time and with the accuracy that Brady did. And that is what’s made the Patriots offense what it’s been.

Newton isn’t a technician. He’ll throw from weird release points, his footwork can be bizarre and he’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes just twice in his career. Power, size, running ability and arm strength set him apart.

But as he got more beat up running the read-option, his running prowess diminished. And the shoulder injuries took the heat off his fastball.

So Newton finds himself in the position of being a reclamation project. Surely it wasn’t what he wanted when the Panthers told him he could seek a trade on March 17. And a one-year, incentive-loaded deal has to be somewhat insulting.

Never mind the fact he’s going to be told to compete with a couple of guys with résumés that will likely never match his.

If he can get his head around all that and play like 70 percent of the Cam Newton who dominated the NFL in 2015, those two don’t stand a chance.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

But less than a week from the Fourth of July, with no other options out there, why not?

What do they have to lose?

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

The New England Patriots' two-decade run of having the best quarterback in their division appeared to end when Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March.

But on Sunday, the Patriots re-entered that conversation by agreeing to a deal with former NFL MVP Cam Newton.

Newton hasn't played at an MVP level over the last couple of years partly due to nagging shoulder and foot injuries. When healthy, though, the ex-Carolina Panther has proven to be one of the league's most productive signal-callers.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

That isn't enough to convince Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that Newton is the top quarterback in the AFC East. From best to worst, Mehta originally ranked the division's QBs as Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Miami Dolphins), and then Jarrett Stidham (Patriots).

Those rankings didn't change much with Newton presumably overtaking Stidham on the depth chart.

"The top of my rankings are going to stay the same," Mehta told Trenni Kusnierek and Gary Tanguay on Thursday night's Early Edition. "I still think Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in the AFC East followed by Josh Allen. I'm going to put Cam third and for purposes of this discussion, I'll put Tua [Tagovailoa] as the Dolphins quarterback. Obviously I think Ryan Fitzpatrick's the better player now, but I don't know how many games he'll actually start.

"So I'm going Darnold, Allen, Cam, followed by Tua."

Tanguay argued that if healthy, Newton is at the very least the clear-cut No. 2 over Allen.

"I just think it's a big 'if,'" Mehta responded. "What gives you any indication that Cam Newton is going to be the Cam Newton from two or three years ago? It's such a big unknown.

"Now, I will grant you that if we see the Cam Newton from a few years ago, that you can make a legitimate case that Cam Newton's the best quarterback in the division. I just think that's a big ask given what we've seen out of Newton these last couple of years."

It remains to be seen which version of Newton we'll see when training camp gets underway later this month. Either way, the Patriots don't have much to lose considering Newton's extremely team-friendly contract.

Mehta's evaluation of AFC East QBs only furthers the point that Newton will have plenty to prove in the coming months. If his recent social media posts are any indication, he's up to the challenge.

Former Patriots exec thinks Cam Newton addition was a 'no-brainer' move

Former Patriots exec thinks Cam Newton addition was a 'no-brainer' move

The New England Patriots lost the best quarterback of all-time in free agency when Tom Brady took his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Replacing him is an impossible task, but the addition of Cam Newton should give the Patriots a tremendous chance to remain competitive in the 2020 NFL season.

The veteran quarterback reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the Pats that pays him just $550,000 guaranteed and could be worth up to $7.5 million if all incentives in the deal are met.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Michael Lombardi is a former league executive who's worked with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his time in New England and with the Cleveland Browns. On the latest episode of Lombardi's "The GM Shuffle" podcast, he explained why bringing in Newton was a "no-brainer" for Belichick.

“You talk about 2015, granted that was the MVP season, but if you really study '18 and really examine those eight games in 2018 -- the last time he won was Nov. 4, 2018 against the Buccaneers -- he was sensational,” Lombardi said. “Here's what you're going to get with Cam Newton: You're going to get a guaranteed 3,600 yards passing. You're going to get 600 yards, minimum, rushing. You're going to get over seven yards per pass attempt. And you're going to get a low percentage of interceptions

"In 2018, he threw 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions before the shoulder injury. He was averaging 7.2 yards per attempt. He was electrifying. He only was sacked 12 times in those eight games, which was really low for the Carolina Panthers with their offensive line. So book those numbers and then add in the Josh McDaniels factor, add in the Patriots factor, and you’re probably looking at 4,200 yards passing, you’re probably looking at 750 rushing, and you're looking at 7.3 or 7.4 yards per attempt. If he stays healthy, he’s going to get Comeback Player of the Year. This was a no-brainer for the Patriots to do it."

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

The money alone makes the deal an easy one for the Patriots. New England has almost no salary cap space, so to get a player of Newton's caliber for so little money easily is worth the gamble. 

Newton, if healthy, is still a fantastic quarterback capable of exposing defenses with his arm and his legs. The worry is Newton's durability. He's 31 years old and coming off a 2019 season during which he missed the Carolina Panthers' last 14 games due to injuries. 

So, there's some risk in adding Newton to the roster, but there's no doubt he'll be extremely motivated to shut up his critics and earn another huge payday next offseason. From a motivation and team need perspective, Newton and the Patriots have the potential to be a great partnership.