Stephen A. Smith explains why Cam Newton could produce 'big-time dividends' for Patriots

Stephen A. Smith explains why Cam Newton could produce 'big-time dividends' for Patriots

Cam Newton was a free agent this offseason for a very long time.

Several months went by and none of the 32 NFL teams agreed to sign him until reports surfaced Sunday night of the New England Patriots and the 31-year-old quarterback coming to terms on a one-year contract worth up to $7.5 million.

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Newton was released in March by the Carolina Panthers, and despite his extraordinary talent and impressive body of work over nine seasons with the NFC South franchise (including a 2015 NFL MVP), there surprisingly weren't many suitors for him in free agency, according to reports. 

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith loves the move for both the Patriots and Newton. Whether it is Newton's motivation to prove his doubters wrong, his dual-threat skill set, or New England's elite coaching staff, Smith sees the Patriots as a great spot for Newton to resurrect his career.

"I loved it," Smith said Monday on ESPN morning show "Get Up!" "I loved it because I know what a tremendous athlete Cam Newton is. I know how hungry he is to really shut up the naysayers that have questioned his level of greatness and what he’s produced throughout his career. A combination of that, with not just the greatness of Bill Belichick but a highly-motivated Bill Belichick, who’s out to prove that he can indeed win without Tom Brady as his quarterback. I think all the stars have aligned. I love the idea of these two together. I think he can help Cam Newton be a better quarterback. I think Cam Newton, although not the passer Tom Brady has been throughout his illustrious career, I don't think there's any question that Tom Brady is not in his stratosphere as an athlete -- the ability to move the chains and the ability to run with the football and make things happen with his legs. The dual-threat Cam Newton will present at the quarterback position with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels as your offensive coordinator, I think it can produce some big-time dividends for the Patriots. 

"I’m excited for Cam Newton, particularly since he’s highly-motivated and since so much about him has been questioned. Because him and Bill Belichick right now might be two of the top three most motivated people in the entire NFL, with Tom Brady obviously being in that top three as well.”

The Patriots have been given plenty of bulletin board material all offseason.

Oddsmakers put the Buffalo Bills ahead of them to win the AFC East next season. Lots of experts also have given a variety of reasons for why the Patriots won't be a legit Super Bowl contender without Tom Brady. One former player even predicted the Cleveland Browns would be better than the Patriots in 2020.

Newton, as Smith pointed out, also has been doubted all offseason. He has plenty of critics to prove wrong, and that's why this move has the potential to be a stroke of genius by Belichick. If it works out, a healthy Newton could help the Patriots make a surprisingly deep run in the AFC playoffs next season. If it doesn't work out, the Patriots can move on with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback without having sacrificed a ton of salary cap space to give Newton a chance.

Newton is only 31 years old and his last good season was just two years ago in 2018. He should have plenty of gas left in the tank, and with head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leading the way, Newton could have a tremendous bounce-back season in 2020. Perhaps that's why oddsmakers have made him one of the favorites to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Former Panthers OC explains 'biggest threat' Cam Newton poses to NFL defenses

Former Panthers OC explains 'biggest threat' Cam Newton poses to NFL defenses

The last time Cam Newton played at a high level was the first half of the 2018 NFL season with the Carolina Panthers, and Norv Turner was his offensive coordinator at the time.

Newton threw 14 touchdown passes with four interceptions and led the Panthers to a 6-2 record in the first eight games. A shoulder injury suffered in the middle of the season prevented him from maintaining that MVP-caliber form, and the Panthers suffered as a result by finishing the season 7-9. Carolina lost the last six games Newton played in 2018. Injuries again impacted him in 2019, and he played in just two games last season before the Panthers released him in March.

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The next chapter of Newton's career will come with the New England Patriots, where he'll give head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a different skill set at the quarterback position than what Tom Brady provided for the last 20 years. 

Turner is confident the Patriots looked at Newton's play from the first half of 2018 when evaluating the fit he could have in New England. 

"The biggest thing if I could look into the minds of New England and coach (Bill) Belichick when they looked at Cam, I'm sure they looked at, No. 1, when he was playing well. That was the first half of two seasons ago, through a 10-game stretch his numbers were awfully good," Turner said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "He was playing at a high level, and I think the shoulder was an issue and kept him from doing the things at the end of the season that he had been doing. So I'm sure they looked at things he was doing that were similar to what they do.

"With (Christian) McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Greg Olsen, we were doing things that have pretty much been done by a lot of teams in the league -- the high percentage things like the crossing routes, getting receivers on the run, the options runs with (McCaffrey), which are things that are very similar to what New England does and a lot of people do in the league, it's just how you package it. I'm sure they looked at those things."

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Pats give Newton a raise with newfound cap space? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

What's the biggest threat Newton poses to opposing defenses? Turner pointed to Newton's ability to make things happen on the run on critical downs.

"When you talk about Cam, you got to look at the things he can do -- the designed runs -- and I don't think you have to do a lot of them, but I think if you do just enough and sprinkle them in, you give the defense something they have to prepare for," Turner explained. 

"The threat that I always thought was Cam's biggest threat was when the play broke down and he was able to take off and run, particularly on third down and get those big first downs. Through the first part of the (2018) season he was very successful at doing that. I think the biggest issue I would have is his health. I would have to think that New England, before they signed him, were pretty darn thorough in making sure they knew he was healthy."

Health will always be the concern with Newton, but if he's able to stay on the field, his signing could prove to be one of Belichick's better free agent moves over the last decade.

Opt-out deadline looms for Patriots, rest of NFL

Opt-out deadline looms for Patriots, rest of NFL

The opt-out deadline loometh.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, any NFL player in the “high-risk” category can opt out and receive $350,000 and credit for an accrued season. Players without the “high-risk” designation will be paid $150,000. That money will be considered an advance on their 2021 salaries.

As of Wednesday night, 60 players had opted out, including eight Patriots. Meanwhile, 56 players tested positive for COVID during initial screening as they reported for this very different training camp. That’s fewer than three percent of all players. Another 107 had it prior to reporting. Those numbers are according to the NFLPA.

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So what will Thursday bring? The Patriots are leading the league in opt-outs by a wide margin. Four Browns have opted out as of Thursday morning. Several teams have three opt outs.

A team’s fortunes can be radically altered by an opt-out if a key player decides the risk is too great for him or his family. The AFC East has probably seen the most consequential opt outs so far.  

Expectations for the Patriots have to be reconfigured as they figure out how to best replace Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and Marcus Cannon. The Jets are going to be without talented linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Dolphins are without wide receivers Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson. And the Bills have lost corner E.J. Gaines and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Meanwhile, their brilliant corner Tre’Davious White was still wrestling with his decision on Thursday morning and railing on Twitter that he was being criticized for debating it. The replies are — as you might imagine — a trip. Maintaining the status quo on this topic, a fleet of people wonder how come they don’t get to opt out of their 9-to-5.

Because you can’t. OK? Maybe if you tackled people at work you’d have a shot, but you probably don’t. And if you do tackle people at work and you didn’t get the opt-out provision, you gotta get yourself to the NFL ASAFP.

Will the Patriots lose any more players? Certainly could. A number of players are still wrestling with it. With a decision so personal and difficult, I’ve come to realize it’s unfair to speculate on individual players and why they may or may not decide to play. (Patrick Chung helped me get there…).

For the lion’s share, the decision is so difficult because it revolves around factors other than their or their family’s personal health. It’s not cut-and-dried.

Age, finances, professional satisfaction, all of it can weigh in.

Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, asked last week if he considered opting out, said, "Uh, nope I feel like our team is so, so close to a championship.”

We’ll keep you updated throughout the day and Phil Perry and I will sift through all of it on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast after the deadline. 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Pats give Newton a raise with newfound cap space? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube