Ryan Fitzpatrick

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

The New England Patriots' two-decade run of having the best quarterback in their division appeared to end when Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March.

But on Sunday, the Patriots re-entered that conversation by agreeing to a deal with former NFL MVP Cam Newton.

Newton hasn't played at an MVP level over the last couple of years partly due to nagging shoulder and foot injuries. When healthy, though, the ex-Carolina Panther has proven to be one of the league's most productive signal-callers.

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That isn't enough to convince Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that Newton is the top quarterback in the AFC East. From best to worst, Mehta originally ranked the division's QBs as Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Miami Dolphins), and then Jarrett Stidham (Patriots).

Those rankings didn't change much with Newton presumably overtaking Stidham on the depth chart.

"The top of my rankings are going to stay the same," Mehta told Trenni Kusnierek and Gary Tanguay on Thursday night's Early Edition. "I still think Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in the AFC East followed by Josh Allen. I'm going to put Cam third and for purposes of this discussion, I'll put Tua [Tagovailoa] as the Dolphins quarterback. Obviously I think Ryan Fitzpatrick's the better player now, but I don't know how many games he'll actually start.

"So I'm going Darnold, Allen, Cam, followed by Tua."

Tanguay argued that if healthy, Newton is at the very least the clear-cut No. 2 over Allen.

"I just think it's a big 'if,'" Mehta responded. "What gives you any indication that Cam Newton is going to be the Cam Newton from two or three years ago? It's such a big unknown.

"Now, I will grant you that if we see the Cam Newton from a few years ago, that you can make a legitimate case that Cam Newton's the best quarterback in the division. I just think that's a big ask given what we've seen out of Newton these last couple of years."

It remains to be seen which version of Newton we'll see when training camp gets underway later this month. Either way, the Patriots don't have much to lose considering Newton's extremely team-friendly contract.

Mehta's evaluation of AFC East QBs only furthers the point that Newton will have plenty to prove in the coming months. If his recent social media posts are any indication, he's up to the challenge.

NFL free agents 2021: Top 10 quarterbacks who could be available

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NFL free agents 2021: Top 10 quarterbacks who could be available

It's never too early to look ahead, and savvy NFL teams will find there are some pretty talented quarterbacks who could become available in 2021 free agency.

Patriots-Dolphins Week 17 preview from Tom E. Curran

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Patriots-Dolphins Week 17 preview from Tom E. Curran

Earlier this week, Dolphins coach Brian Flores assessed his season-ending matchup with the Patriots and Bill Belichick this way: “He’s going to try to beat the heck out of us. And he knows this about me: We’re going to do the same…We’re going to be competing against each other and nobody’s going to care about any [relationships]…At 1 o’clock on Sunday, they’re going to be on the other side, and we’re competing, and we'll be friends after those three to four hours.”

That was actually borne out in September when the Patriots kept on punching in their 43-0 win over Miami long after the fight was decided. The Patriots scored 20 in the fourth including a 10-yard Tom Brady-to-James White touchdown pass with 2:10 left. On the final play of the game, working to preserve their shutout, the Patriots sent an all-out blitz at Josh Rosen on a snap from the Patriots 8. It was picked by Jamie Collins. 

Personally, I like it when teams keep playing to the gun because I like to see the reaction of the team getting beat. Do they whine that it’s mean and not sporting? Or do they take the blame for being down by 30 in the first place? (And I’m talking within reason; double-reverse passes with 40 seconds left would be overdoing it…). 

The Patriots have two things to play for on Sunday. 1) They have to protect the No. 2 seed and the bye that comes with it. 2) They need to use the final two regular-season games this year the same way they did in 2018: as playoff tuneups/momentum builders. Expect full effort. Both sides.