If Cam Newton can recapture 2018 form, Patriots should win the AFC East

If Cam Newton can recapture 2018 form, Patriots should win the AFC East

It wasn't all that long ago that Cam Newton was a good quarterback in the NFL. Very good, even.

Through the majority of the 2018 season, before a shoulder injury worsened and sapped his production, he was among the top passers in the league. 

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Consider some of these numbers...

Through Week 9 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — Newton ranked in the top five in Pro Football Focus' positively-graded throw rate. 

Through Week 9 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — he gave his receivers a chance to make plays, checking in with the eighth-lowest uncatchable pass rate, per PFF.
Through Week 9 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — PFF graded him as the 11th-best passer in football. 

Through Week 11 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — Newton had a 68.4 completion percentage. Had he stayed healthy enough to maintain that number, that would've placed him seventh in that category that season. 

Through Week 11 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — Newton had a quarterback rating of 102.7, which was seventh in the league at that time. 
Through Week 11 of the 2018 season — just two seasons ago — he also remained one of the premier run threats at the position, picking up 141 scramble yards on 21 scrambles (an average of 6.7 yards per non-designed rush), according to PFF. That was a slightly better average than the significantly-younger scrambling passer Dak Prescott (6.5 yards per scramble).

And that was with a right shoulder that needed surgical repairing in January following the season. His yards-per-attempt figure for the season ranked him 22nd, an indication he was not pushing the ball down the field all that often or that successfully. 

Here’s a good illustration of just how ineffective Newton was passing downfield that season. 

Newton’s shoulder should’ve been in good shape for 2019 but we hardly got a good look at him. He broke his foot in preseason, throwing off his mechanics and his arm action for the two games in which he played last season before being shut down. 

If he could play as a top-third-of-the-NFL quarterback for the majority of 2018 (with a deteriorating shoulder) then shouldn’t there exist the possibility (now that it’s been a year since the shoulder was repaired) he can recapture that form?

Understanding the price point at which Newton arrives to New England, it makes all kinds of sense to see if he can recapture that 2018 form. He doesn’t have to be an NFL MVP the way he was in 2015 in order to give the Patriots a chance. Bill Belichick still has one of the best defenses in football, and if his offensive line can stay healthy that should lead to a potent running attack. 

Add it all up, and they should be the favorites in the division, which DraftKings Sportsbook says is exactly what has happened

No surprise here, even if Newton is on a short-money deal and not exactly guaranteed to be the starter because of the uncertainty surrounding his health, but the Patriots now have better Super Bowl odds as well. 

All it would take for the Patriots to make good on those wagers would be for Newton to recapture whatever it was he had in 2018. That wasn’t all that long ago, remember. 


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.

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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.

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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."

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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.