Cam Newton has potential to be just what Patriots need

  • Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton looks for a receiver during the team's NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 9, 2019, during the second half in Charlotte, N.C. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2020 5:50:33 PM

We were in the middle of a Sunday night family Yahtzee game on Zoom when my brother-in-law Brett asked, “What are you hearing about Cam Newton to the Patriots?”

After confirming the Heisman-winning, former NFL MVP quarterback was signing a one-year deal to play in New England, a nearly forgotten feeling put a grin on our streaming faces. It felt like a time machine had delivered the news, like the moment came from a past when you could escape through sports.

It only lasted a few rolls, daydreaming about the schemes Bill Belichick might concoct for Newton to extend the Patriots dynasty. Then reality crashed back in with talk of the coronavirus canceling the season and concerns about Newton’s health even if games are played … and Brett rolling another Yahtzee and winning another game (there have been rumors about underinflated dice.)

But there is at least the potential for an NFL season and getting Newton is all about potential for the Patriots.

Yes, Newton only played two games for the Carolina Panthers last season due to a foot injury, and he missed the last two games of 2018 with a shoulder injury, and it’s not hard to argue that his 2015 MVP season was much closer to a fluke than a norm for his career. Still, he’s only 31-years-old and, at least theoretically, in the prime of his career. He comes with little financial risk since New England reportedly signed him to a league-minimum contract that could be worth up to $7.5 million if he plays well and often, and that’s still not much for a starting quarterback. And he should arrive with plenty of motivation after the rest of the league passed him by.

So, there’s a chance Newton could return to his 2015 self, when he threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns in the regular season (against only 10 interceptions) and then led Carolina to Super Bowl 50. Heck, it looked like he had rediscovered that form in the first half of 2018 (he had 15 touchdown passes through eight games and the Panthers were 6-2) before injuring his throwing shoulder in the ninth game of the season. His play drastically declined after that and he missed the Panthers final two games, but he had surgery in the offseason and appeared to be healthy until he suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Patriots in the first preseason game of 2019 that eventually forced him to miss most of the season.

Maybe Belichick is the perfect coach to help Newton get his groove back. Squeezing the most out of newly acquired and allegedly flawed veterans is one of Belichick’s specialties. He’s been doing it during his entire tenure in New England, starting with guys like Mike Vrablel and Antowain Smith in the early 2000s, to Rob Ninkovich and Wes Welker, to more recent players like Danny Amendola and Kyle Van Noy.

Belichick never needed to pull off a veteran quarterback reclamation project with Tom Brady on the Patriots. But Belichick did make Matt Cassel, who New England took with a seventh-round draft pick in 2005, look like a top tier starting NFL quarterback in 2008. The degree of difficulty on that trick has to be higher than it is on finding a way to win with Newton, a former No. 1 overall pick. Plus, it feels safe to assume that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are already gleefully devising creative ways to use Newton’s running ability, something they could never do with Brady.

Aside from his on-field contributions, Newton also has the potential to be the kind of star that will help the Patriots brand, and fans, cope with the loss of Brady. Newton is a larger-than-life character, a charismatic and confident leader, an athlete who is just on the edge of one-name fame (if he isn’t already there yet) with stars like LeBron, Messi and Serena. No, Newton has not achieved the greatness of those three, or of Roger, Tiger, Kareem or any other one-name great, but he has that kind of star power potential, and that potential is part of the reason why his signing with New England felt like a moment from the past, like a minute of escape into sports fantasy.

When Brady signed with Tampa Bay back in March, the season was so far away, and the pandemic was so new, that it all felt surreal or hypothetical. But recently, with sports leagues planning to return and the scheduled start of NFL training camps nearing, the reality of watching the Patriots play without Brady was becoming more real, and more painful.

Newton’s arrival in New England won’t take away all of that pain, but it will help. As long as there’s a season for him to arrive in.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)




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