As a former league MVP, it surprised some people that New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton was unsigned for so long this offseason. For more than three months, from the time he was released by the Panthers in March to the time the Patriots signed him in July, people questioned whether the perceived lack of interest marked the end of Newton's NFL career.
But one person who never questioned if Newton would land somewhere is his former Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Now the coach of the Washington Football Team, Rivera insisted Newton's extended stay in free agency was due to injury concerns and teams' inability to check his health in-person due to the coronavirus pandemic. So when Newton finally did land on a team, Rivera was excited, especially because it was a team he thought all along could use Newton.
"I was excited. I really was, because you know I always thought all along that there were a couple teams that would've been really good for him, and I always felt the Patriots was one of them," Rivera said Friday on The Dan Patrick Show. "When Tom Brady went to Tampa Bay, I thought 'You know what, that might not be a bad spot for him because of the style of offense, because of the things that they ask the quarterback to do.'"
Rivera reiterated his stance that Newton likely would've been signed earlier had teams been able to bring him and work him out. He also doubled-down on another point of view he provided earlier in the offseason, that people shouldn't bet against a motivated Newton this season.
"You know, I thought in 2015, coming off the 2014 season -- even though we got into the playoffs in 2014, he didn't play his best. 2015, he played unbelievable," Rivera said. "In 2016, he had an off year, he was hurt. He came back in 2017 and had just a great year that got us into the playoffs. And then '18 and '19, he was hurt. And so I think he has something to prove. I think he's gonna prove something. I like the fact that coach [Bill] Belichick and what they want to do offensively... I think that's gonna suit him. And plus, I think [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels is creative enough to use his skillset to the best of his ability. So, I'll watch them. I'll be excited about watching them."
Being healthy is only part of the equation with Newton, however, as he and the team's success will largely fall on if he can stay healthy. While Newton's physical style of play can often leave him vulnerable to big hits, Rivera believes officials could've done a better job protecting him too.
Patrick referenced one game in particular that he thought was unfairly officiated, the Thursday night season opener in 2016 between the Panthers and Denver Broncos when Newton took a beating, including several shots to the head. Rivera said Newton got the same treatment as the 7-foot-1, 300-plus pound Shaquille O'Neal, who often didn't get the same calls as smaller NBA players.
But perhaps Newton had to take the lumps in order for the current crop of young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson to thrive.
"I always thought he kind've got the Shaq treatment. You know, when Shaq used to get hacked underneath and the fouls weren't called," Rivera said. "Somebody else gets hit that way and then the penalties would be called. I will say is you look at the quarterbacks that are out there now ... I mean, I know Michael Vick set the trend, and then all of a sudden you've got Cam Newton out there, now you've got the Patrick Mahomes, you know. And you look at what he's done and how he's done it, you know these big, strong, athletic quarterbacks that are tough to bring down, that can extend plays, that can move around in the pocket, create, those are the guys that are gonna become dangerous. You're gonna see, you know, the passing of the torch in terms of the style of quarterbacks. Because you don't see a lot of Aaron Rodgers' coming out or Tom Bradys anymore. You see these types of guys are going. And these young, athletic guys are really coming to the front."
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