Patriots

Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

All things being equal, there’d be no reason Cam Newton couldn’t make his case to be opening day starter for the Patriots in 2020.

But all things really aren’t equal between Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.

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First, Newton has to show he’s recovered from foot and shoulder problems that marred his last two seasons. From all indications, that’s a formality. The Patriots expect Newton to have no physical limitations.

Second, Newton has to make up the system stagger that Stidham and Hoyer have on him. There are a lot of plug-and-play positions on a football team. Quarterback isn’t one of them. The position demands its owner know his job cold AND the responsibilities of 10 other guys.

That’s less of a sure thing.

Stidham’s been with the team through two offseasons, got specific tutelage throughout 2019 from offensive assistants like Mick Lombardi and has had 15 months to eat, drink and sleep the Patriots' way of doing things.

Hoyer’s been around it even longer.

Newton’s been with the team a little more than a week. Sources say he’s already into the playbook, learning the language and there’s no concern he won’t master it. But demonstrating that mastery on the practice field and in preseason games? Newton may not have that chance.

Two weeks of preseason have been lopped. Right now, the league and players are wrangling over how to ramp-up the early stages of camp. The union, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, wants 80 players on rosters as opposed to 90, just 20 players at a time at the facility during the first 21 days of camp and 40 during the next 10-day phase of non-contact practices. So that’s 31 days of players in shifts from the time camp theoretically opens on July 28. There are then 10 practices (eight padded) and the two preseason games.

It’s inevitable that a full-go Newton will be the Patriots' starter at some point in 2020. And over that proposed 41-day period, there will be plenty of time for Newton to show the arm strength, mobility, poise and leadership the team presumes he’ll bring.

But will it be enough time for Newton to show he can run the Patriots offense as smoothly as Stidham and Hoyer? Who gets the first-team reps in camp? Who starts the preseason games? Is weight placed on the crispness of the whole operation when they do hit the field or — if it doesn’t look just right — is that chalked up to the acclimation period?

“I think Jarrett Stidham is going to make this closer than most people realize,” said Chris Simms, an analyst for NBC Sports and Pro Football Talk. “(When the Newton signing happened) I thought, ‘Ooohh, this far into the offseason …?’ I just thought the Patriots would stand pat with Stidham. I know they really like him. This is going to be hard to overcome.”

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On further review, Simms realized the equation will ultimately boil down to who’s the better player: Newton or Stidham?

“The more they play around with Cam Newton, the more they’re going to realize, ‘Whoa, there’s just a whole other facet of our playbook here that we can dive into and be very effective with Cam Newton over Stidham too,’ ” Simms said. “I would imagine Cam Newton is going to be the starter and Jarrett Stidham will be his very willing backup.”

From indications I’ve gotten, this will be an open competition. The starter’s job isn’t promised Newton. Importantly, the sense is that Newton understands that. And the belief is that if he’s not the starter coming out of camp, he wouldn’t pull the ripcord and demand his release so he could latch on elsewhere. Both sides want this to work. Both sides know that work is what it will require.

When you sit back and think about it, trepidation and presumptions about what Newton would expect his situation to be is what led him to the Patriots.

“He got screwed over by his own team, then Covid-19 hurt him with being able to get the medical checks,” said Simms. “So all the seats were filled for starting quarterbacks. I’ve been saying that nobody would sign Cam Newton except for a few teams because he would disrupt or divide a locker room (if he’s not the starter).

“If he’s your backup, everybody’s going to go, ‘Man, did you see our backup today? Did you see that throw he made? Did you see that run he had? Did you see that throw he made on the run?’ And everyone’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t we starting him?’ That will ruin a football team,” said Simms. “That’s why he was on the street. But this is a situation that certainly makes sense.”

It does because Newton isn’t trying to beat out a quarterback the team drafted high and planned to hand the reins to. Stidham’s a promising player they took a shot at. His flag isn’t planted anywhere on the depth chart.

The question isn’t whether Newton is good enough to start over Stidham. The question is how quickly a Patriots offense that’s been built around a pocket assassin morphs to meet Newton halfway.

Simms says that shouldn’t be an issue.

“It’s the most versatile playbook in the NFL,” he said. “There’s no team in the NFL that can reinvent their offense, or their team or the mantra of their team on a regular basis. I don’t think this is going to be a huge adjustment for them where they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to invent this whole new playbook.’ A lot of these plays are in their playbook. Now, instead of putting them on page 185, now we move them up to the first 40 pages of the playbook because they’ll be more of a staple that way.”

Bottom line? Pandemic or not, teams don’t generally wait until June 28 to acquire their starting quarterback for an upcoming season. The Patriots have.

We’ll find out if that means, “Ready or not, here comes Cam!” in Week One.

Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Don Yee is well known as the agent for Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Sean Payton and others.

But his longstanding effort to shine a light on the inequities of what he calls the “collegiate sports industrial complex” may wind up being as impactful on the game of football as the work he’s done with those greats.

This week, I spoke at length to Yee on our podcast about college football at a crossroads in this summer of COVID-19.

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In Yee’s view, the awakening that’s gone on among athletes as they’ve been strung along for months by the Dumb and Dumber coalition of coaches, college presidents and administrators has been building.

“It’s a situation that’s been gaining steam in my view for at least the last 10 to 12 years,” Yee said. “There’s been such a dramatic influx of money into the collegiate sports industrial complex that when you’ve got that kind of money coming in there’s just been a single-minded focus on generating more and more money and that focus unfortunately has taken over … college administrators, college presidents, athletic directors and coaches.

“They’ve actually taken their eye off the ball in that they have completely overlooked the fact that they have a labor force that isn’t being compensated,” Yee added. “In their single-minded pursuit of every single dollar they’ve forgotten about the care and concern of the athletes.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Don Yee and the remedy for college football’s ‘industrial complex’ | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Everyone knows big-time college sports drips with hypocrisy and greed. It’s a shell game in which literally thousands of people wind up splitting the billions of dollars generated every year and the only ones that never see a legal buck of it are the players.

The pretzel logic used to justify it is laughable. The best way to enjoy the product and the games is, literally, to ignore the reality.

Yee has, over the past decade, forced people to look at it.

“Over the decades we’ve created a unique system that doesn’t exist anywhere in the developed world,” he said. “Nowhere in the developed world does this exist. Where you have a system, a small group of football players every year – there’s 130 Division I schools and among those 130 schools let’s say 50 to 60 are the most critical players to that enterprise for that particular season.

"So it’s a few thousand young men and what they do is strap on the equipment and roll out there for an increasingly long season – now as many as 14 games – and go out there and put their bodies on the line to generate substantial amounts of revenue to support the lifestyles of the administrators, the coaches, the coaches in the non-revenue sports, all the non-revenue sports programs and athletes which then – by extension – helps support the U.S. Olympic program (as a breeding ground for the athletes before becoming Olympians).

“The success of the football program also supports the very existence of the university because if the football program has success, the university can then initiate a piggybacking off the excitement and success of the football team and begin multi-billion capital campaigns to build new buildings on campus etc. So all of this is due to the efforts of a very small group of young men every single year. We tolerate it. Ultimately, we get distracted by the pom-poms and the bands.”

Yee and I discussed so much more, including whether he thinks there will be an NFL equivalent to the NBA’s G-League (yes), details on his new venture which will help teams easily find the players they now have to kick over rocks to discover (like Malcolm Butler) and how the change in college will be shepherded in by the players.

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

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana has wondered aloud how the New England Patriots could let Tom Brady get away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Based on the conversation he had with Brady in February, though, maybe he should have seen the QB's exit coming.

During an interview Wednesday on ESPN 97.5 Houston's "Jake Asman Show," Montana revealed he talked with Brady at Super Bowl LIV and got the sense the 20-year veteran didn't like his situation.

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"I spoke to Tom while we were back at the Super Bowl," Montana said. "I don't think he was happy with the way things were progressing there and his ability to have input, and I think that was a big decision for him to make to leave there."

Our Tom E. Curran and others have reported that Brady wasn't thrilled about having less of a say in the Patriots' offensive game plan last season, especially after New England mustered just 13 points in a Wild Card Round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Montana's recollection of his conversation with Brady -- the two QBs were part of an "NFL 100" pregame ceremony at Super Bowl LIV -- certainly lends credence to those reports and suggests Brady was ready to move on from the Patriots after 20 seasons.

It sounds like the 43-year-old quarterback picked the right destination, too: Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich apparently joked that all he has to do with Brady under center is "get out of the way."