Kemba Walker on Cam Newton signing: Patriots fans are 'gonna love him'

Kemba Walker on Cam Newton signing: Patriots fans are 'gonna love him'

Charlotte’s sports scene may not be on the same level as what fans around New England are accustomed to, but that hasn’t prevented two of the area’s most high-profile sports teams from tapping into the pool of pro talent from the Queen City. 

Kemba Walker arrived in Boston last summer as a replacement of sorts for the Boston Celtics, who were looking to fill the cavernous void left by Kyrie Irving’s decision to take his talents to Brooklyn. 

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Now almost a year later, a professional team in New England has once again turned to the Charlotte pro scene for talent with the New England Patriots coming to terms on a one-year deal with former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. 

Not only are Walker and Newton former face-of-the-franchise talents in Charlotte, but their journey towards being the man in that market both began in 2011. 

That's when Walker was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft while Newton was the top overall pick in the NFL draft just a few weeks prior to Walker’s selection.

The parallels between their two careers now being in New England after beginning in Charlotte at the same time is not lost on Walker. 

Walker, speaking to the media via conference call on Wednesday, said the whole situation “is just insane to me.”

He added, “I’m happy for him.”

While the specifics surrounding each of their departures from Charlotte varied, the bottom line for both players was the same — they didn’t want to leave. 

Walker left because the Hornets were unwilling to pay him anywhere close to the maximum-salary he was eligible to receive. He wound up doing a sign-and-trade deal that netted him a four-year, $141 million contract in Boston. 

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One of the worst kept secrets in the NFL was how Newton, who had been besieged by injuries in recent years, was anyone’s to take via trade last season.

The Panthers eventually waived him, but did so eight days after the start of free agency, which meant many of the teams that might have had interest in signing him had already addressed the position. 

And with the global pandemic having put physicals for athletes on pause, there was no way any team was going to sign Newton without getting an update on his medicals with their own doctors.

Newton was eventually able to do enough to alleviate some of the medical concerns, which opened the door for an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Patriots that reportedly could be worth as much as $7.5 million. 

Like Walker, Newton will be looking for a fresh start in a market that’s dramatically different than the one he left. 

But Newton’s challenge will be much greater than that of Walker, in large part because Newton will be coming in to fill the enormous shoes of Tom Brady (now in Tampa Bay) who is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. 

No one knows for sure how Newton will fare in a new system and with a new fan base while playing for a team that has a very different set of expectations for its best players and the team as a whole. 

But Walker doesn’t appear worried about how Newton will fit in. 

“I know the fans out there are gonna love him a lot,” Walker said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully when the world opens back up, getting out there to a game and supporting him.”

How Bill Belichick is handling Patriots' punishment from videotaping incident

How Bill Belichick is handling Patriots' punishment from videotaping incident

As if losing their franchise quarterback and several core veterans to free agency wasn't enough, the New England Patriots also will be down a pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Patriots lost their third-round pick in 2021 and paid $1.1 million in club fines as punishment for a team staffer illegally videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline during a Week 14 game last season.

Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about the NFL cracking down on his team Friday for the first time since the league announced its punishment in late June.

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"Obviously the league had a long investigation on that, but really we're just looking ahead," Belichick said in a video conference, referring to the seven months it took for the NFL to reach a verdict.

"We have a lot of things ahead of us here, especially getting ready for the season and all that. We've moved on, and we'll deal with what we have to deal with in front of us here. Just let everything go in the rearview mirror and go ahead."

Belichick and his staff have plenty on their plate as training camp ramps up: They need to integrate a new quarterback (Cam Newton) and a handful coaches in different roles (Jedd Fisch, Troy Brown and Tyler Hughes, to name a few) while accounting for the losses of eight players who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.

The loss of a 2021 draft pick obviously impacts New England's future plans, but if Belichick and his staff apparently aren't looking that far ahead -- or if they are, they're not letting on.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Finally, the New England Patriots are back on the field at Gillette Stadium.

The new-look Pats had their first practice of 2020 on Wednesday, which means training camp position battles are officially underway. The obvious position battle in camp will be at the quarterback position between Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, but there are many more intriguing battles to keep an eye on.

In a brand new Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry break down the positions where these battles will take place.

Patriots Talk Podcast - Training Camp Preview: Burning Questions and Bold Predictions | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

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Perry named the Patriots' three most notable position battles, starting with the QB position. While it's technically a battle between Newton and Stidham, some believe it's a foregone conclusion Newton will be the Week 1 starter.

"You have the quarterback spot with Cam vs. Stidham. Let's move past that, we've talked enough about that, we both think Cam is going to win the job. Not a real battle, per se," Perry said.

"Let's go back to the outside linebackers. This is a four-way cage match between Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, Shilique Calhoun and Brandon Copeland. My guy is going to be Anfernee Jennings, but I do think that's a battle. Whatever that opposite John Simon edge spot is called, somebody's got to fill it.

"Number three, let's talk special teams ... who is your returner? Is it Kyle Dugger, your first draft pick in this year's draft? Is it J.J. Taylor? Fun as hell to watch, would be fun as hell to watch in the kicking game. Or is it last year's guy, Gunner [Olszewski]? They don't want to give it to Julian Edelman, we know that, so one of those three guys I think will win it."

For Curran, it's a newly-added safety who will have his attention in camp.

"I'm going to head over to the secondary for the position battle that I'm interested to watch," Curran said. "I have a good feeling of who's going to shine there and it's my defensive dark horse for this camp and this season -- it's going to be Adrian Phillips at the safety spot holding off a young Kyle Dugger.

"I think Adrian Phillips is going to be an absolute eye-opener at the safety position ... Adrian Phillips is a talented player; he's closer to [Patrick] Chung than he is Devin McCourty. He's going to be a really good player for the Patriots this year. But I'm going to be real interested to see how Dugger competes ... he's an athletic unicorn."

Curran and Perry also discuss the burning questions surrounding the Patriots, why the Pats should explore using the triple option, bold predictions for the 2020 season, and much more.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.