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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Cam Newton adds impressive upside to New England’s quarterback position

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Related: Patriots roster breakdown: G Joe Thuney

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with the newest Patriot.

Hard facts

Name: Cam Newton

Position: Quarterback

Jersey number: TBD

Opening day age: 31

Size: 6-foot-5, 245 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Following a college career that started at the University of Florida and took him to Auburn via Blinn College, Newton was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL draft. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner instantly made an impact on the organization by earning the starting quarterback job during his first training camp and never looking back: an electrifying athlete, Newton was named the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and voted to his first Pro Bowl.

His first year with the Panthers was a sign of things to come. Over the eight years that followed, Newton became a poster child for the modern NFL QB: a threat not just due to his arm but with his legs as well, he continuously posted impressive numbers both through the air and on the ground. Never was that more apparent than during his 2015 campaign, when he not only led Carolina to a 15-1 record and a berth in the Super Bowl but was also named the league’s MVP after accounting for 4,473 yards and 45 touchdowns.

While Newton has struggled with injury as of late, his track record still is an impressive one: he has appeared in 125 regular season games as well as seven playoff contests, and has completed 2,505 of his combined 4,204 career passing attempts (59.6%) for 30,862 yards, 192 touchdowns and 115 interceptions. Furthermore, he has carried the football 997 times for 5,064 yards and 60 more scores. Needless to say that Newton has lived up to his status as the top draft selection nine years ago.

What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off an up-and-down season that ended with him being inactive for the final two regular season games, Newton decided to undergo surgery on his injured right throwing shoulder. The procedure and subsequent rehab period forced him to sit out the Panthers’ organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in spring, but did not bother him when the team opened its training camp in late July: Newton was back on the field in his usual capacity as the team’s starting quarterback.

The veteran did see only limited action in preseason — he played 11 total snaps against the Patriots during the so-called dress rehearsal in Week 3 — Newton served as Carolina’s QB1 when it opened its regular season two weeks later. From that point on, however, his ninth season in the league only went downhill: not only did the Panthers lose their first two games behind up-and-down performances from their quarterback, he also suffered what was later revealed to be a Lisfranc fracture.

Carolina opted to take a cautious approach with its franchise quarterback by deactivating him for each of the next six games. However, Newton’s recovery went slower than expected and the Panthers eventually decided to shut him down for good in early November by placing him on their season-ending injured reserve list. Newton’s 2019 season therefore ended with him having played just 141 of a possible 1,113 offensive snaps (12.7%) and posting some rather pedestrian numbers along the way.

All in all, Newton completed 50 of 89 passing attempts for a completion rate of just 56.2% while throwing for 572 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. He also struggled as a ball-carrier by gaining -2 yards on his five combined attempts. As a result of this production in combination with his age, salary cap impact and recent injury history, the Panthers decided to part ways with the long-time face of their organization after the year: after failing to find a trade partner, the team released Newton.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Even though he is built like a tight end and has the career production of a bona fide running back, Newton is paid to play the quarterback position — and that is exactly what he will do in New England as well. While his role on the depth chart is yet to be determined, the 31-year-old offers impressive upside due to his ability to work as a dual-threat option: he has the arm talent to make every throw in the book and the athleticism to challenge defenses with his legs.

What is his special teams value? As is the case with any other quarterback, Newton offers essentially no value in the kicking game. While he could fill Tom Brady’s former role as the emergency holder on field goal and extra point attempts behind punter Jake Bailey, it seems highly unlikely that the Patriots will use him on special teams. Newton has snaps in the game’s third phase on his résumé and this will not change in 2020.

Does he have positional versatility? For a quarterback, Newton offers some intriguing versatility. Not only can he successfully maneuver around the pocket, but he also is a threat on designed runs as well as RPO concepts or other misdirection plays that involve him carrying the football. His size and general athletic makeup also allow him to be moved elsewhere on trick plays: Newton has caught two passes in his career for a combined 33 yards.

What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots have signed Newton to a one-year pact reportedly worth up to $7.5 million. That said, the expectation is that his actually salary cap impact will be a lot lower: the former league MVP will likely carry a cap impact between the veteran minimum of $1.05 million and somewhere around $1.4 million. Accordingly, he will hit New England’s books with fewer than $500,000 until the Top-51 offseason rule gets lifted in September.

What is his roster outlook? While Newton is one of the biggest starts in the NFL and brings an impressive track record to New England, he will likely not be a roster lock even after his contract details get reported: the veteran will have to earn his spot on the 53-man squad (or, unlikely, the practice squad) by showing his value in training camp. Competing against second-year man Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, Newton will fight for the starting role but would also be a quality backup option if unable to quickly adapt to his new environment.