Roundtable reaction: Cam Newton to succeed Tom Brady in New England

Roundtable reaction: Cam Newton to succeed Tom Brady in New England
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The New England Patriots will look a lot different in 2020. So will Cam Newton.

Newton agreed to a one-year deal with Bill Belichick’s Patriots Sunday night in a move that took the NFL by surprise. Newton, who played in only two games in 2019, will step into the role Tom Brady helmed for much of the past two decades as New England prepares its first season without the six-time Super Bowl winner since 1999.

After nine seasons in Carolina that included three Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl berth and the 2015 MVP award, Newton will have to prove he can stay on the field. If he can, could he be in line to start for multiple seasons with the Patriots, or is second-year pro Jarrett Stidham the future in New England?

We assembled our NFL writers to break down the news.

What was your initial reaction to the news that Cam Newton would be signing with New England?

Mike Sando, NFL writer: Good move by both parties. Teams sometimes panic in the absence of an established starting quarterback, but not the Patriots. They waited until Newton basically had no options, and then signed him to a deal that favors the team. A very New Englandy move.

Joseph Person, Panthers writer: A little surprised, only because Newton’s flamboyant style would seem to run counter to Bill Belichick and his hoodies. But the Patriots have signed plenty of other players with big personalities, some of whom have worked out (Randy Moss), others who haven’t (Chad Johnson, Antonio Brown). If Newton is healthy, he can still be effective. A Lisfranc injury suffered in New England last August torpedoed his 2019 season, but the real concern is his throwing shoulder after two surgeries.

Ted Nguyen, NFL analyst: Considering that I was ready for a lazy relaxing Sunday night and have been conditioned to the lack of big sports news for weeks, this news floored me. I thought Newton was definitely an option for New England initially, but after they didn’t make a move at quarterback for so long, I was convinced that they were committed to at least a year of Jarrett Stidham as the unquestioned starter and maybe even a rebuilding year.

Sheil Kapadia, NFL writer: I was surprised, only because I figured if the Patriots were interested in Newton, they would have made a move earlier this offseason. But obviously it was a tricky situation given his health and the pandemic. It’s impossible to know what Newton has left, but I think this is a move that makes sense for both sides. The Patriots didn’t have a real solution at quarterback and now can take a flier on Newton, and Newton gets a chance to show he can stay healthy and have a productive second phase of his career.

Lindsay Jones, NFL writer: The timing is surprising — a late Sunday evening in late June — but we shouldn’t be surprised when we think about how Bill Belichick operates and look deeply at the NFL quarterback landscape. The quarterback carousel spun so fast earlier this year, to the point where there weren’t many viable options for Newton, who does not deserve to be a backup quarterback. New England is the best outcome for him — a pretty obvious path to become the starter, and once that happens, a path to earn whatever incentives are built into his contract. The big question, of course, is health, and that’s why it’s taken so long for Newton to land with a new team. If his foot and shoulder are good to go — and they at least initially appear to be based on the videos he’s shared on his social media — there’s no reason to believe he can’t have several highly productive seasons left.

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What does this mean for Jarrett Stidham?

Sando: There is now less of a chance Stidham will be the primary starter for the Patriots this season. He remains a young player for the team to develop and play if/when he is the best option. It’s not like any promises were made to Stidham. He’s a developmental player.

Person: It means he’s headed to the bench. Again, assuming Newton’s left foot and right shoulder hold up, he’s clearly the better option for a Patriots team whose championship window seemingly never closes. Newton, who was forced to take an incentive-laden, one-year deal, is going to show up to Foxboro extremely motivated if his Instagram workout posts are any indication. And a motivated Newton is dangerous.

Nguyen: If Newton is healthy, I don’t see any way that Stidham could beat out Newton in camp. We are talking about a former MVP quarterback that just hasn’t been healthy for the last couple of years. Stidham’s fate will be contingent on Newton’s health.

Kapadia: I’m sure the Patriots will bill it as a quarterback competition, but unless Newton has serious medical concerns, I have a hard time seeing Stidham winning the job. The Stidham hype from one preseason was out of control anyway. From 2008-17, 42 quarterbacks were selected between rounds three and five. Three from that group have turned into quality starters. Could Stidham turn out to be good? Sure. But the odds of finding a really good quarterback in the fourth round are low. The Patriots would have been nuts to put all their eggs in the Stidham basket.

Jones: Short-term, it’s not great for Stidham. It’s one thing to have Bill Belichick express optimism about him during the offseason, but the fact is the Patriots are going to open training camp (eventually) without Stidham ever taking a snap with the starters. Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff might still love him and his potential, but they are signing the one quarterback available who is so clearly an upgrade. It makes me wonder if Belichick was playing a long game here all along.

Is the addition of Newton enough to keep the Patriots atop the AFC East?

Sando: That depends on whether Newton gets and stays healthy, and right now nobody knows if that is going to happen. If Newton returns to his 2018 form, yes, I like New England in the AFC East. If he is in and out of the lineup and never regains his confidence, then I think the Patriots will go another direction, and while they could win the division, it’s at least as likely the Bills win the division.

Person: Maybe. The division felt like a two-team race between Buffalo and New England before Newton agreed to terms with the Patriots, and that’s still the case. Bills coach Sean McDermott spent six seasons with Newton in Charlotte and knows his strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone. The two Bills-Patriots games just became must-see matchups.

Nguyen: Again, Newton’s health is the big question mark. If he’s healthy, with that defense, Newton gives that offense some teeth. Although the Patriots still don’t have a lot of weapons on the outside, Newton has shown that he has the ability to elevate the talent around him. I believe Tom Brady is the better quarterback in an ideal situation, but Newton’s playmaking ability can better elevate a mediocre offense.

Kapadia: I think they’re right there with the Bills. Remember, the Patriots had a mediocre passing game last year and still finished 12-4 with the second-best point differential in the NFL. They don’t need Newton to be the MVP. With that defense, competent quarterback play should be enough to have them in the mix for a playoff spot.

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Jones: The Patriots still have some question marks at the skill positions, but I expect they’ll remain one of the NFL’s best defenses, and if Newton is even 70 percent of the player he was before injuries robbed him of a couple seasons, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots extended their AFC East winning streak. That’s not great news for the Bills, who were finally in a position to take over; they certainly still could (I have been on the record many times about how much I like Bills’ roster-building plan), but all of a sudden the Patriots answered their big outstanding question.

How do you think Josh McDaniels will utilize Newton in the Patriots offense?

Sando: I’d imagine he’ll do some of the things the Panthers did with Newton to make use of his dual-threat abilities. Norv Turner adjusted his offense for Newton in Carolina. McDaniels will presumably do the same. I also won’t be shocked if the Patriots go with a platoon system where both quarterbacks play in the same game, perhaps on different series.

Person: Much like Norv Turner did the last couple of seasons in Charlotte, when Newton reinvented himself by becoming a more accurate passer on short and intermediate routes, even while connecting on fewer deep balls. Newton might not run like he did when he first entered the league, but he can still keep plays alive with his feet. And at 6-5, 245, Newton remains a force in short-yardage and goalline situations.

Nguyen: Similarly to how the Patriots utilized Jacoby Brissett when he was a rookie in 2016 against the Texans when they installed QB runs and option plays. McDaniels won’t call as many as he did with Brissett because he did it to mask Brissett’s pass inefficiencies at the time, but they’ll definitely be a bigger part of the offense than they’ve ever been. They’ll also look to throw the ball downfield more rather than focus on short passes.

Kapadia: I think that all depends on how healthy Newton is and what he feels like physically. The days of him being used frequently on designed QB runs very well may be over. I do think it’s interesting to look back at how the Panthers used him in 2018 when he had major shoulder issues and couldn’t push the ball downfield. Newton completed 67.9 percent of his passes that year in an efficient, ball-control offense. That may be the template the Patriots work off of. I do have concerns about the Patriots’ supporting cast though. Newton is not entering a great situation.

Jones: It would be silly to try to look at much of what the Patriots have done in recent years with Brady to inform what the offense would look like with Newton, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a plan. Over the course of two decades, the Patriots have evolved, and this is a chance for McDaniels to really show his offensive creativity. I imagine that will look like more option plays, more plays designed to get the quarterback on the move — Newton should not be their primary rushing option, but his size, strength and speed combination give McDaniels flexibility that he hasn’t had before.

Why do you think this move was made now?

Sando: For New England, the price was right. For Newton, it became clear he did not have better options. Those two things had to converge for this marriage to take place. We knew that would not happen early in the offseason. We thought it could happen beginning in June and maybe into July. Here we are.

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Person: The Patriots needed an established quarterback to follow Tom Brady, and Newton needed a team. Rather than waiting for a quarterback to get injured somewhere, Newton chose to bet on himself – with a coach who’s won six Super Bowls – in the hopes of a big payday in free agency next year. Signing Newton now means the Patriots believe he’s healthy, and it gives Newton a month to start learning the offense before training camp.

Nguyen: Maybe Newton finally dropped his asking price down to an acceptable figure for the Patriots.

Kapadia: I mean, it’s hard to look away from the fact that the Newton news broke on the same night that the Patriots were penalized for recording the Bengals sidelines. I can’t think of another great reason for the timing.

Jones: Just a casual Sunday night news dump out of New England, no big deal. I don’t believe it was something that just quickly came together, but rather as the result of both sides continuing to monitor each other throughout the spring and summer and the circumstances finally lining up. The last hurdle, of course, is the physical. I can’t imagine that New England would agree if they believed Newton would actually fail whenever their team doctors get to evaluate him, but it’s a question nonetheless.

Which team took the biggest whiff by not signing Newton?

Sando: The Chargers. I’d rather have Newton and Justin Herbert than Tyrod Taylor and Herbert. Even having Newton, Taylor and Herbert would seem preferable. But that assumes Newton would have taken a similar deal from the Chargers. We do not know if he would have done that. It’s possible the deal he signed with New England was one he would not have taken elsewhere, which would make it less fair to say another team whiffed.

Nguyen: The Chargers. They’re going to a run-option offense with Tyrod Taylor as their projected starter. They have a loaded offense. Having Newton in that offense would have made them much more dangerous.

Person: Either Jacksonville or Washington. The Jaguars appear to be in a full rebuild, so maybe bringing in a former MVP and sitting Gardner Minshew was never a fit. Washington coach Ron Rivera arrived in Charlotte in 2011 three months before the Panthers drafted Newton No. 1 overall. The two went to a Super Bowl together. But instead of adding Newton to the QB mix with Dwayne Haskins, Washington traded for Kyle Allen, Newton’s backup in Carolina.

Kapadia: The Bears certainly have to be second-guessing themselves for trading for Nick Foles rather than taking a shot on Newton. The other team that comes to mind is the Chargers. I see a Super Bowl roster that’s going into the season with Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert. I thought Newton could have been good for them in terms of generating excitement and potentially lifting their offense in 2020.

Jones: I would have loved to see Newton with the Chargers, both on the field and as a way to really generate buzz in Los Angeles. We’ve now seen that the Chargers’ long-term plan is Justin Herbert; it feels like it’s a gamble they might end up regretting.

(Photo: Barry Chin / Getty Images)