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Cam Newton Could Be Next Great Patriots Reclamation Project

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After being a top favorite to land quarterback Cam Newton, the New England Patriots finally struck an incentive-laden deal with the 2015 NFL MVP. Listed with +300 odds to sign Newton, the Patriots made a low-risk investment into Newton. While expectations for the former MVP should be somewhat controlled, the upside is that Newton reclaims his elite status and is the latest Patriots reclamation project.

The pairing is fascinating on several levels. The first is that the Patriots will be trotting out someone other than Tom Brady at quarterback, and they replaced him with a mobile quarterback who’s been a power thrower his entire career. Stylistically, he’s nothing like Brady. And surely there was internal interest in expanding the skill set at the position from Brady’s pocket-passing limitations.

The hype around Jarrett Stidham’s supposed takeover of the future of the franchise, a claim that made little sense for anyone who had paid attention to his disappointing collegiate career, centered around his movement ability. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will enjoy the perks of an athlete like Newton, who forces defenses to play more zone than man coverages. He forces more predictable situations.

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In a perfect recovery sequence, Newton would immediately make the Patriots a near-favorite in the AFC East and a strong playoff contender. The Patriots offense is embarrassingly thin though, and this fact surely played a part in Brady’s departure. A playmaking corps headlined by James White, N’Keal Harry, Julian Edelman, and Mohamed Sanu is seriously lacking in explosiveness. 

Newton’s worked with similar casts, though, and the Patriots defense will keep them highly competitive. For McDaniels, building an offense around Newton’s skill set all depends on his health status. Skeptics point to Newton’s decline since his monstrous MVP season where he completed just under 60 percent of passes for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, but the quality of his isolated play hadn’t dropped significantly until injuries piled up in 2018. 

As a downfield passer in an efficiency-led era, Newton has often been criticized for lacking touch and accuracy. Some of that is true, but much like Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger, his big plays have outweighed the frustrating misses he’ll produce. The question is whether he’ll be as ineffective as he became in the last half of 2018 and the two games played in 2019.

The injuries led to a visible struggle for Newton as he attempted passes. He’s had two shoulder surgeries and most recently a Lisfranc foot injury. Those aren’t insignificant; his throwing motion has been laborious the last two years and the foot injury has a history of ending careers. 

Newton is currently listed with the second-best odds to win Comeback Player of the Year at +350. As much as I like Newton’s upside, those are ambitious odds. He didn’t join a terrific surrounding cast and coaching staff with a proven ability to mold an offense around his skill set, and yet the return on such an encompassing award is mediocre. 

Cam Newton. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images/AFP

The Patriots’ organization has a long history of winning with skilled players who looked to be on the precipice of irrelevance and that’s why they continue to get the benefit of the doubt even after half their decisions don’t work out. They’ve hit big before, and Newton is a massive swing towards staying competitive. At worst, Newton’s not healthy, he’s released, and Stidham gets one year to show what he has. At best, Newton reclaims his perch as one of the most dangerous and feared playmakers in the league.

It’d be logical for McDaniels to bring back more West Coast principles from his days with the Denver Broncos compared to his short-passing attack with Brady in order to help Newton. This offense should be radically different visually, even if the point is to still protect the quarterback with quick out-passes and relying on spacing to create easy yards. The question is whether Cam can go “super Cam” when he needs to, and how often will it be necessary.

I think the answer, with this roster, will be often. And there’s been little to suggest he’ll be able to reach that level consistently due to the injuries. If he can, he’ll be the face of the Patriots franchise for several years. This is a smaller “if” scenario than with other quarterback risks like Jameis Winston, Nick Foles, and Andy Dalton since they’re more flawed when all else is equal. 

I’ll be playing similar bets as I was before the signing because I’m pessimistic in Cam’s health based on how hard it was to watch him play the last time we saw him. I thought the Bills were the clear favorite in the division, and even in a best-case scenario with Newton, still see them as the team to beat. However there’s no question that race is closer to even now, and the win total is almost perfectly set at nine. 

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