In a season of uncertainty, Patriots signing Cam Newton makes all the sense in the world

In a season of uncertainty, Patriots signing Cam Newton makes all the sense in the world

There are a lot of reactions you can have to the Patriots signing Cam Newton.  

The national sports media reaction: "Oh no! Belichick pulled one over on the NFL again! From Brady to Cam! Hope the Bills enjoyed their offseason of thinking they stood a chance!"

The local sports fan reaction, a.k.a. the why-did-I-let-the-Boston-sports-media-talk-me-into-Jarrett-Stidham reaction: "What gives? Does Stidham suck or something?"

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You'll continue to see both of those quite a bit in the coming days, but here's mine: I think the Patriots signed Cam Newton because he was cheap and because there's never been a season in NFL history where quarterback depth was more important.

That's not to say Newton can't or won't win the starting job. If he's vintage Newton, it'll be his.

But if he's as questionable as, say, a league MVP with health concerns so bad that he had to sign a one-year, incentive-laden deal that would cap out at paying him 27th among quarterbacks? Well, then he's simply an intriguing option that could go in any number of directions.

The Patriots have bought low and struck gold before on a big-name player considered a has-been. Randy Moss is the gold standard there, so it's easy to feel optimistic with this one, too.

But in reality, I'm not ruling out the Patriots still trying to see what they have in Stidham. If he's close to Newton, he'll be the guy because he's cheaper and he's signed beyond the season.  

And that wouldn't make Newton a bad signing. I'd still think it's a great signing, because the first season of the COVID era could be messy. Players are going to test positive and miss time, and the virus doesn't care which position these guys play. That's why teams like the Saints and Colts, who have multiple legitimate starting quarterbacks on their rosters, might have a leg up on a lot of other teams.

I've long wanted the Patriots to use this season to see what they have in Stidham, which would probably take 10 or more games. If he struggles, isn't ready or gets sick, Brian Hoyer (whom I think the Patriots should keep on the roster), isn't a strong enough insurance policy. Newton provides an additional and better option.

Now, the Stidham experiment could get tricky if Newton begins the season under center. With all due respect to Hoyer, it would probably be easy to sit him after a few games. With Newton, though? Would average play be enough to warrant a benching? And would he even give the Patriots average play considering that the last season he was healthy (2018), his performance was very close to that of Tom Brady?

It's not a bad problem to have if your goal is to win the AFC East and contend for a title. A healthy Newton trying to earn a big contract could easily be the best quarterback in the division. He could theoretically start most or all of the season, earn a payday and set up Stidham to finally become the starter after two seasons on the bench.

Or Newton could not be healthy, not be good or just not be as promising as Stidham in training camp, making him an inexpensive backup.

Best case, they're both good and Stidham is so much better that the Patriots know they have their guy. Worst case, Newton starts all season, leaves at season's end and the Patriots either draft a quarterback or sign a veteran to compete with Stidham. Remember, the Pats are set up rather nicely financially after next season.

The point is that this signing can't hurt. That the Patriots went all offseason only signing Hoyer at quarterback showed that they were prepared to enter the season with Stidham as their best option. That another good, cheap option came along isn't an indictment of that plan.

It's just another option, and a good move at that. 

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

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For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

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Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.