When March 17 came and the news that Tom Brady was leaving hit social media, the first thing everyone heard was “the Patriots are done”, and it makes sense. They just lost the greatest quarterback in the history of the game to a team with maybe one of the worst and with all the other changes occurring on defense (Van Noy signing with Miami, Jamie Collins with Detroit) it was very easy to declare them to be dead. They were not actively engaged in the free-agent market as far as quarterbacks, and it appeared they were going into full-on rebuild mode with Jarrett Stidham, their 2018 4th Round pick, under center to start the 2020 season. Yes, Brian Hoyer was brought in to compete, but everyone assumed Stidham was getting the nod and Hoyer was going to back him up, at least eventually.
While this was going on, the Carolina Panthers were also in the midst of a huge change at quarterback with the best player in the history of THEIR franchise. Cam Newton missed essentially all of 2019 with a Lis Franc injury, and he also hurt his shoulder badly in 2018. He was GREAT in 2018 before the injury, but the Panthers hired a new coach, and most of the time in that situation the new guys want to build THEIR team. The Panthers decided to cut Newton and sign Teddy Bridgewater. Now, they are different styles, but you are replacing a guy who could still be banged up with a guy who has gotten hurt multiple times in the NFL? Seems odd, but who am I to say it won’t work. Either way, Newton was a free agent, and the Patriots rumors started immediately.
Cold water was thrown on the rumor quickly, and almost everyone assumed that Cam would end up with Chicago or Los Angeles(Chargers). He visited with the Bears, but they chose to go with Nick Foles as the guy that will eventually steal Mitch Trubisky’s job. The Chargers stuck with Tyrod Taylor. Newton was a man with no home, and it didn’t make sense. He is just 31, he was great in 2018 before he got hurt, throwing the ball more accurately than ever in his entire career, be it college or the NFL, and the man is a winner. He’s had ups and downs in the NFL, but for the most part, he has been very good if not great. He is the best running quarterback in history. Even being 31, his mobility is still going to be a problem for defenses. Regardless, he was unemployed and things were looking bleak.
And then it happened. On June 28, when everything was quiet across the NFL world, the news bomb was dropped- Cam Newton signed a one-year team-friendly deal with the New England Patriots. Then all hell broke loose across social media, talk radio shows, podcasts, etc…it was huge news, and rightfully so. The Patriots, a team expected to take a huge step back into rebuilding with a second-year unknown quarterback, had signed a former MVP that is just 31 with a chip on his surgically repaired shoulder. Some shrugged, stated he was done, and declared the Bills as the still clear favorite in the AFC East. Then there were the people who…get it.
The Patriots are still in a bit of a rebuild, but this is now similar to what we saw in 2009. The roster is young and raw in certain spots and there are untested players everywhere. In ’09, Brady was coming off of his only major injury in his 20-year career, and he wasn’t great. In fact, ’09 was probably his worst year because of the rebound from the injury and the roster being influx. That team went 10-6 because they had a quarterback, albeit rusty, that was able to will them to ten wins. After that, they were off and running with the second half of the dynasty.
The similarities are eery when you look at the ’09 team vs. the ’20 team, and it shows that this team always has a plan A, B, and C. Brady was coming off a major injury; Cam Newton is also coming off of a major injury. Brady was 32 and people were thinking that maybe the knee injury could be an issue going forward, but we all know how that worked out. Newton is 31 and has the same questions, albeit about his throwing shoulder, but the questions are similar. Will the same happen for Newton and the Patriots going forward as they did for Brady from ’09 and beyond? We shall see, but with the same man in charge of the same team-building philosophy, it makes sense that we would see similarities. It is important to note that Brady had Welker and Moss at wideout, so the passing numbers for those two were solid, but beyond those two, who were just over 1,300 and 1,200 yards, respectively, the next man up was Ben Watson and his 400 yards. They also didn’t have the same talent at the running back position in ’09; don’t be fooled by Moss and Welker, that offense had issues.
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So far from what we have seen in training camp, Newton is showing signs that he is back. He was rusty at the beginning of camp, but once he started getting the starter reps, his accuracy was reportedly improving to the point we had seen in the first half of 2018. People talk all the time about the Patriots “lack of weapons”, which has absolute truth to it, but Newton hasn’t played with a wideout like Julian Edelman since he was with Steve Smith Sr., and that duo worked well together. Yes, the Patriots have question marks at the receiver position, but they have enough overall with their backs to make this work. Newton will have a field day throwing to James White this year, as he showed with Christian McCaffrey.
The running back position is fluid with Sony Michel somehow ending up atop the depth chart again. Damien Harris tore up camp and clearly looks like the best back on the roster, but he injured his finger and is on IR until at least Week Four. The aforementioned James White returns, but he is mainly a receiver posing as a running back. Newton has always flourished with a good running game and he obviously adds a lot to it himself, but I think Newton is at the point where he’ll run, but when it makes sense. Josh McDaniels is going to be rolling Newton out and trying to move the defense, which makes it significantly harder to defend the passing game. Brady doesn’t have that ability, so last year when the receivers were having trouble getting separation, the plays were done. With the quarterback rolling and moving, the defense has to worry about the quarterback while trying to maintain their coverage. It also helps the offensive line if they are inexperienced or more of a technical blocker than a mauler.
Newton is going to have to work with a significant amount of youth at the skill position, with rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene (I don’t care if Izzo is listed as the starter, he’s not the guy), and second-year wide receivers N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Gunner Olszewski. Harry needs to be a part of the offense, and it would be crazy to think at least one of these other newbies won’t contribute. Asiasi has a very good chance to step in and be good right away. He has soft hands, runs good routes and he also can catch the ball in traffic, all traits needed to succeed as a tight end in the NFL. Newton has always liked to throw to his tight ends; Greg Olsen averaged 67 catches over the course of seven total seasons (Olsen played seven games in ’17, nine games in ’18).
This marriage between Newton and the Patriots could be short-lived, or it could end up in a long term deal with him being the Patriots quarterback for the next three to five years. Nobody knows, but it is important to keep in mind that although Newton is coming off of two major injuries, he is just 31 and his work ethic is second to none. As we saw in 2018, Newton is coachable and open to a different style where he runs a little less and takes what the defense gives him, and that is exactly what New England wants from him.
Cam Newton is fighting for his career in 2020; if this doesn’t work with the Patriots, there is a good chance he is never a starter again. Personally, when it comes to Newton, a man that has been down before and had to fight to get back to the top, it would be crazy to bet against him. He went to JUCO, which is never easy to do- he won the 2009 national title. In 2010, he went to Florida, but things didn’t work out, in part because of a bad decision. He goes to Auburn in 2011 and goes undefeated and wins the whole thing. Now, he is still just 31 and coming off of an injury with the same “prove it” mindset. Call me crazy but betting against Cam Newton seems like a mistake, and that is a mistake I won’t make.