It’s not fair to consider a year of Cam Newton on a base salary of $1.75M a bargain.
For the Patriots, it’s closer to a no-strings test drive.
But what if Newton is outstanding? What if he has a personal renaissance, plays like a “lion” and puts to rest any inkling he’s washed?
The Patriots may find getting Newton to stay for more than a short visit just isn’t financially feasible because of the looming drop in the salary cap.
We went deep on the possible cap drop a month ago, just a few days before Newton was signed. Local revenues are going to take a whack thanks to the pandemic.
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Friday, the NFL and NFLPA announced an agreement that the minimum cap number for 2021 will be $175M. That’s a possible reduction of almost $25M and a drop of about $40M from the 2021 guesstimate of $215M.
Now the Patriots are in great cap shape in 2021 even if the cap goes down. According to Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com, the Patriots will still have more than $59M of room with a $175M cap. That’s fifth in the league.
By contrast, there are about a dozen teams that are close to or already over the $175M. Among that group are the Steelers, Chiefs and Texans. Those teams are going to have to do restructures with some players and others – veterans on their second or third contracts – are going to be released.
New England’s not going to have to wrestle with that. They do have several good and important players who will be free agents at the end of this season - Joe Thuney, Dont'a Hightower, Mohamed Sanu, Jason McCourty, James White, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Rex Burkhead and David Andrews.
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But the Patriots have the NFL’s oldest roster. Thuney, White, Butler and Andrews are the only players on this list that are under 30 at this time so the team may be saying goodbye to some of the others and be in position to take advantage of the roster bloodletting elsewhere.
Which brings us back to Newton.
He’s made $121M playing football since coming into the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. In June 2015, he signed a five-year, $103.8M deal that paid him $67.6M in the first three years.
Lucrative as that was, consider what quarterbacks who had decent seasons are now being paid. Ryan Tannehill, who's two months younger than Newton, had his best season in 2019. The Titans kept him off the free agent market with a four-year, $119M deal with $62M fully guaranteed. His cap numbers in 2021 and 2022 are $22.5M and $29.5M.
If you're Newton and you have a competent to very good 2020 despite having no offseason to prepare, you’d have every right to say Tannehill is your starting point.
But Tannehill’s numbers on a $215M cap were going to be a bit onerous. On a $175M cap (and with the possibility of modest cap recovery in ensuing years) those numbers are going to be suffocating.
Newton, after playing for relative peanuts in 2020, is going to be hitting a depressed market where even a Tannehill-type deal is unlikely.
The Patriots pushed away from the table on Tom Brady because they didn’t want him consuming too much of their cap. Especially at 42.
If Newton’s hell-bent on getting back to the financial neighborhood he’s resided in, the looming league-wide cap drop and the Patriots financial philosophy may make this a brief union. No matter how well Newton performs.