Even though NFL teams are allowed to carry up to 90 players on their active rosters during the offseason, the New England Patriots opted to keep just 89 since the rookie free agency period following the draft in late April. On Sunday, however, they decided to finally fill that one vacant spot — and they did so with a bang: the team signed former Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2011’s first overall draft pick Cam Newton to a one-year free agency deal.
What does signing Newton mean for the team, though? Let’s find out.
The Patriots have never had a QB as physically gifted as Newton...
While Newton is already 31 years old and has had numerous injuries throughout his career in the NFL, he is still one of the most impressive athletes in all of football. The former league MVP brings a 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to the table and does not only offer some tremendous arm strength but is also as tough a ball-carrier to take down in the open field as any skill position player. Add it all up, and you get a quarterback that may be more physically gifted than any player the Patriots have ever had at the position. Sorry, Steve Grogan.
...and could implement a new-look offense because of him
Cam Newton is no Tom Brady: while Brady made a living with his elite processing skills, decision making and pin-point accuracy, Newton is capable of winning with his athleticism and ability to make plays outside the pocket. Accordingly, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might try to build a new-look system around the veteran — one that projects to be more modern with its use of run-pass-option plays or zone-blocking concepts than what New England previously ran with Brady under center.
The quarterback competition will be intense this summer
Up until Sunday, the belief was that the battle for the Patriots’ starting quarterback position in Year One after Brady would be decided between second-year man Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer. Stidham was viewed as the favorite after an impressive first year in the system, but he will face some tough competition in the form of Newton: while coming off an injury-riddled season, the ex-Panther is a proven QB1 in this league — something that neither Stidham nor Hoyer are.
This is a classic low-risk, high-reward signing
Despite his pedigree — Newton’s accolades, among others, include one league MVP trophy and three Pro Bowl selections — the 10-year pro remained on the open market for three months before New England brought him in. His upside cannot be denied, however, which makes signing him to an incentive-filled one-year contract the classic low-risk, high-reward addition: at worst, the Patriots invested minimal resources for a short-time rental; at best, they signed a Pro-Bowl-caliber talent and their starting quarterback for the 2020 season.
Despite their salary cap issues, the Patriots can afford Newton
The Patriots entered the weekend ranked last in the NFL in salary cap space with $650,989 available. Nevertheless, they are in a financial situation to still add Newton without any follow-up moves having to take place as salary cap expert Miguel Benzan pointed out on Twitter:
I believe his 2020 cap number will be no higher than $1.4M and will likely be $1.05M. If correct then the Patriots salary cap number would be $350,989.
While it remains to be seen whether or not this projection turns out to be accurate, a minimum-salary contract would allow New England to sign the veteran without any immediate follow-up transactions having to be made.
Newton might factor into the compensatory selections process
Given that a) he was released by the Panthers in late March, and b) the league’s official part of free agency is already over, Newton’s deal will not count against New England’s compensatory draft picks formula in 2021. That said, he could factor into calculations for the subsequent year: if he earns the Patriots’ starting role and comes close to his Pro Bowl form again this season, Newton will likely be a highly sought-after free agent next March — one that could yield a compensatory pick if he leaves town again.