Ever since Tom Brady announced his departure from the New England Patriots, the team has had a vacancy at the most important position in football. While second-year man Jarrett Stidham appears to be the leading candidate to fill it — with veterans Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler also in the mix — he is far from a safe bet to successfully take over for a man who has won an unprecedented six Super Bowls during his two decades in the organization.
Stidham, after all, is an unproven commodity despite the upside he showed last summer and one year of experience in the Patriots’ system. That said, New England seems to be willing to ride with the 23-year-old in 2020: the team did not make any additions to the position group in free agency besides re-signing the aforementioned Brian Hoyer, and is likely also not in a position to add a Day One starting quarterback in next month’s draft.
Add a precarious salary cap situation — the Patriots are currently only $803,834 under the threshold, according to Miguel Benzan — and the team’s relative inactivity at the position becomes no surprise. If the team still wants to add more proven talent to its quarterback room, however, one of the most attractive options might be former first overall draft pick and long-time Carolina Panthers starting quarterback Cam Newton.
The 30-year-old, who saw each of his last two seasons come to a premature end because of injury, was released by the Panthers last week and remains unsigned as of Monday. New England has not shown “any immediate interest in adding” him to the mix, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, but a) circumstances can still change and b) Newton still projects to fit into the team’s new-look offense as a number two with considerable starter upside.
The first point likely will be shaped by a combination of asking price, health and confidence in Stidham (and to a lesser degree his two projected backups), whereas the second will depend on the Patriots’ offensive scheme: do coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick feel as if they can or want adapt how the unit operates to fit Newton and his unique skillset in? Advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus thinks New England should do just that.
PFF’s Ben Linsey recently wrote about the ideal landing spots for the top free agents remaining on the open market, and that Newton would be the ideal fit for the Patriots if “they want to attempt to compete next year.” The rationale behind this thought is formulated as follows:
If the Patriots wind up with a healthy Newton, there is a chance he could produce at a high level in Josh McDaniels’ offense. It was a flash in the pan, but we saw in 2015 that Newton could perform like an elite quarterback over the course of a season. Paired with one of the league’s best defenses, the Patriots could still contend. The cap situation would force the Patriots to trade the tagged Joe Thuney and/or make other cap moves, whether that be restructures, releases or trades, for veterans such as Dont’a Hightower. But signing Newton is still a possibility. He’s the best option out there if the Patriots want to contend in 2020.
As noted in the excerpt, the financial aspect of potentially signing Newton — whose asking price remains a mystery at this point in time and could very well be the primary deciding factor against New England adding the former league MVP — would likely force the Patriots to make some follow-up sacrifices. Would a worse overall roster therefore be worth a potential (but certainly not guaranteed) upgrade at the quarterback position?
Given Bill Belichick’s holistic approach to roster construction, and the Patriots’ moves in free agency so far, the answer appears to be “no.” So while the team might be the best landing spot from Newton’s perspective and a good overall fit, New England not feeling the same way would not be a stretch of the imagination — at least with him as the (financial) focal point of the Patriots’ offensive attack.
The premise that Newton gives the team the best chance to contend in 2020 should therefore be questioned. He has experience and a proven track record, yes, but acquiring him might not make the Patriots a better team overall.