Tua Tagovailoa

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.

Is Jarrett Stidham better than Tua Tagovailoa? Chris Simms defends bold take

Is Jarrett Stidham better than Tua Tagovailoa? Chris Simms defends bold take

Why didn't the New England Patriots trade up in the 2020 NFL Draft to select Tua Tagovailoa?

If you ask Chris Simms, it's because they already have a better quarterback on their roster.

The NBC Sports analyst is counting down his top 40 quarterbacks entering the 2020 season and pegged Patriots signal-caller Jarrett Stidham at No. 35. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa didn't even crack Simms' top 40.

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So, is Simms saying the Patriots' 2019 fourth-round pick who attempted just four passes last season is superior to a Heisman Trophy finalist who just went fifth overall to the Miami Dolphins?

Why yes, he is.

"(Stidham is) more talented than Tua," Simms said Tuesday on WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni & Fauria" radio show. "(Tua) is a creation of Alabama. You don’t think Jarrett Stidham or like Justin Herbert would have set the world on fire if they got to play with four first-round receivers and two first-round tackles?"

Tagovailoa indeed played for a powerhouse Alabama program that appeared in two national championship games and lost just four games total during his three seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Stidham's Auburn Tigers were no slouches, either, but the QB played with far less talent than Tagovailoa and worked with a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey.

So, what's the ceiling for the 23-year-old kid who has to fill Tom Brady's shoes? Simms doubled down on his pro-Stidham take by referencing the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

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"Of the guys I have in the 30s, (Stidham) has the biggest potential to make a big-time jump," Simms said. "People thought I was crazy after Patrick Mahomes’ rookie year and I ranked him like 29 and people were like, ‘Oh my God, you haven’t even seen him play. He was 4-7 at Texas Tech.’ I was wrong to put him at 29. I should have put him at four or five, probably somewhere in there."

Mahomes was the No. 10 overall pick in 2017, but he backed up Alex Smith as a rookie and went somewhat overlooked before blossoming into a superstar.

The Patriots didn't take a QB in this year's draft and have passed on big names like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton in free agency, so perhaps they feel similarly about Stidham.

As for how he stacks up against Tagovailoa? We may find out in Week 1, as the Patriots host the Dolphins in their season opener.

Will Tua Tagovailoa start at QB for Dolphins in Week 1 vs. Patriots?

Will Tua Tagovailoa start at QB for Dolphins in Week 1 vs. Patriots?

Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins offense and beat the New England Patriots in Week 17 of the 2019 season, but will he still be the starting quarterback when Miami makes its next trip to Gillette Stadium?

The Patriots and Dolphins will open their 2020 schedule with a Week 1 matchup in Foxboro.

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Fitzpatrick did well to lead the Dolphins to a 5-4 record over their final nine games of last season following the team's abysmal 0-7 start. There's no guarantee he'll be the starter next season, though, because the Dolphins selected Alabama star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tagovailoa, if healthy, has a chance to be Miami's first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino, who retired in 2000. The debate isn't whether Tagovailoa is the quarterback of the future in Miami, it's when should he get his chance to shine.

It's possible that opportunity could come right off the bat against the Patriots in the 2020 season opener. Here's what Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote in his 10-Point Stance column Wednesday:

The more compelling question isn't whether Tagovailoa starts at some point this year; it's whether he will start at the beginning of it. And according to every coach I've spoken to, it's a forgone conclusion that he will beat out veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and start Week 1 against the Patriots on Sept. 13.

Tagovailoa has incredible talent and would pose some challenges for the Patriots defense with his dual-threat skill set, but in terms of leaving Gillette Stadium with a win, history is not on his side.

Bill Belichick is 20-5 overall and 13-0 at home versus rookie quarterbacks in his career as Patriots head coach. The most recent rookie QB to lose to the Patriots was Daniel Jones of the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium in Week 6 of last season.

The Dolphins, however, will be confident in Week 1 against the Patriots regardless of who starts at quarterback. They upset the Patriots in Foxboro in their last meeting, and Miami then spent the summer upgrading its roster in a major way through free agency and the draft.

Tagovailoa should get a chance to shine in 2020, and there would be no better way for him to kick off his NFL career than beating the Patriots in their own backyard.