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Can Cam Newton be Bill Belichick’s greatest reclamation project?

Related: New Patriots quarterback Cam Newton will be ‘going at necks all year’

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Even though the term reclamation project is thrown around pretty loosely it would be hard to argue that Cam Newton doesn’t fit that description. The former league MVP is coming off a rough two-year stretch during which he started 16 of a possible 32 games and held a record of 6-10, throwing 14 interceptions over that span. In the seven years prior, he played 109 of a possible 112 games, won an MVP and led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. It is fair to say he is trying to reclaim that glory.

Bill Belichick, on the other hand, is a man who has a reputation for helping these so-called “reclamation projects” get back to their peak form. It doesn’t matter what derailed these players either, Belichick has always found a way to help them find success. You could make a list of all the different kinds of players he has reshaped. Longtime starters coming to the ends of their careers like Andre Carter, former “busts” who needed a change of scenery like Kyle Van Noy, and players who wore out their welcome someplace else like Martellus Bennett. It doesn’t matter what has happened prior, once they get to New England they get a fresh start.

He has also had his failures in that department as well. Antonio Brown couldn’t stay out of the tabloids, the Albert Haynesworth experiment was a disaster, and Jonathan Cooper injured his foot in training camp and was cut just months after being included in a trade for Chandler Jones. Despite the outcome, Belichick continues to take on these challenges, and Cam Newton is the latest and most high-profile one in years.

So you’ve got a guy looking to return to his old glory and a man who has made a name for himself helping players do just that. This relationship should be a match made in heaven. The question here is, can it be the best we’ve seen?

There are three players in particular who stand out amongst the crowd when talking about reclamation projects, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, and Rodney Harrison. All three came to New England and revitalized careers that would have been dead in the water otherwise. So I am going to compare their respective situations with Newton’s to see who is the greatest reclamation project in Patriots history, and what Cam will have to do to claim that spot.

Corey Dillon as a Patriot

Dillon was traded to New England by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004. He always played well in Cincy but had a tumultuous relationship with the Bengals while lobbying for trades pretty frequently. He publicly requested a move throughout the 2003 season, as his carries were more than cut in half due to the emergence of Rudi Johnson and the arrival of new head coach Marvin Lewis. He even threw his equipment into the stands following his final game as a Bengal. Dillon is the prime example for a player who needed a change of scenery.

When he finally got that change in 2004, he exploded for the best season of his career. He ran for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to a Super Bowl title. In Cincinnati, he was seen as a malcontent; in New England, his teammates praised him for his work ethic and ability to fit in with the locker room culture. That is where the difference lies in Dillon the Bengal and Dillon the Patriot: all he ever wanted to do was win, and when he finally got that, he was a model football citizen.

That offseason he was signed to a five-year extension worth up to $25 million. He played two more years in New England, ultimately retiring as a Patriot. His final two years were good if not unspectacular and he shared the load with first-round rookie Laurence Maroney in 2006. He retired as the NFL’s 14th all-time leading rusher.

Statistics and Accolades:

  • 3 Seasons (2004-2006)
  • 1x Super Bowl Champion (XXXIX)
  • 1x Pro Bowl (2004)
  • 3,180 yards, 37 touchdowns

Randy Moss as a Patriot

The Patriots acquired Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick prior to the 2007 season. After spending two subpar seasons in Oakland during which he caught 102 passes for 1,558 yards and 11 touchdowns, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin shipped Moss off to New England where he further solidified himself as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history (Jerry Rice fans stay out of the comments).

We all know what happened in 2007. Moss caught 23 touchdown passes, breaking Rice’s record of 22, was named first-team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl. He combined for 152 catches, 2,272 yards and 24 touchdown receptions in 08’/09’. Dissatisfied with not receiving a new contract, Moss played four games for New England in 2010 before being traded to Minnisota. He never won a Super Bowl but publicly thanked Bill Belichick for helping revive his career in his 2018 Hall of Fame speech.

The big change for Moss was Bill Belichick. He played for Art Shell and Norv Turner in Oakland and won a combined six games in two seasons. A player with the abilities of Moss must have felt like he was being wasted in such a horrific program.

Statistics and Accolades:

  • 3.25 Seasons (2007-2010)
  • 1x All-Pro (2007)
  • 1x Pro Bowl (2007)
  • NFL Record for receiving touchdowns in a season. (23 in 2007)
  • 259 catches, 3,904 yards, and 50 touchdowns.

Rodney Harrison as a Patriot

Harrison signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2003. He was released after spending nine years in San Diego. In his first season as a Patriot Harrison made an immediate impact, was named to the All-Pro team and won the Super Bowl. He followed that up with a better year in 2004 where he was snubbed from the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams but won his second straight Super Bowl. In his remaining four seasons in New England, Harrison struggled with injuries, missing 33 games from 2005-2008. He always played well when he was on the field, though.

Harrison’s career really turned around in New England because he found someone who would allow him to be him. He had a reputation for being a hard-nosed safety who hovered on the line of legal and illegal hits. He went 110 MPH 110% of the time, something that Marty Schottenheimer did not necessarily appreciate in San Diego. Belichick didn’t mind at all and allowed Harrison to be who he was.

Statistics and Accolades:

  • 6 Seasons (2003-2008)
  • 2x Super Bowl Champion (XXXVIII + XXXIX)
  • 1x All-Pro (2003)
  • 15 Interceptions (7 in postseason), 9.0 sacks, and 446 tackles.
  • Patriot Hall of Famer

Cam Newton Comparison

Though I would contend that Harrison is the best reclamation project in Patriots history, I think Newton’s situation compares best to Randy Moss’. Seven great years becoming the best player in Minnesota Vikings history followed by two underwhelming years that led to the player becoming available and pretty much no one wanting him. That essentially describes both Moss and Newton. The only differences are their positions and that Moss was traded and Newton was signed. Both came into New England on one-year deals for far less than they are worth, Newton for $1.05M and Moss for $1.5M. The situations are eerily similar.

The question remains what does Newton need to do to become Belichick’s best reclamation project? Moss broke records and became a fan favorite, Dillon signed a huge contract extension, Harrison had team success winning two Super Bowls and became a Patriots Hall of Famer. The easy answer is win. To be looked at as successful in New England you need to win, especially at the quarterback position. Can he and Belichick get the job done? It remains to be seen, he’ll have to win the starting job first.

Tell me what you guys think Newton will have to do to be put in a category with Dillon, Moss, and Harrison in the comments. Follow me on twitter @KeaganStiefel.