The biggest question for the New England Patriots this offseason is what they will do at quarterback. After all, the team struggled offensively in Year One after Tom Brady — in part because of his successor, Cam Newton, posting sub-par numbers while throwing the football. Given that the circumstances were all but friendly to the first-year Patriot, however, there is still a chance that he eventually returns to New England in free agency.
While it remains to be seen how the Patriots think about a reunion, Newton himself would be up for it. The 31-year-old noted as such during a recent appearance on the I AM ATHLETE podcast alongside three former NFL players: Fred Taylor and Chad Johnson, who both spent time in New England during their careers, as well as Brandon Marshall.
The 100-minute discussion covered a wide variety of issues — from the Aaron Hernandez saga to male grooming habits below the equator — but let’s focus on seven noteworthy takeaways from a Patriots-centric perspective.
Newton would return to New England on another one-year deal
As noted above, Newton would be open to returning to the Patriots after having spent the 2020 season on a one-year contract.
“Yes. Hell, yes,” he said when asked by Taylor if he would sign another one-year pact with the organization “I’m getting tired of changing. I’m at a point in my career, I know way more than I knew last year. Now you give me [a full offseason] ... They know me: Doughboy knows me, Jakobi knows me, Byrd knows me, the young tight ends know me; the younger guys that are going to come in. We’re still trying to flush out the 20 years of how it used to be.”
Even though Newton would neither confirm nor deny if the two sides are currently in negotiation, he pointed out that “there’s always a chance for everything” — especially under circumstances more favorable than the one he experienced last year.
Newton, of course, joined the Patriots late in the process and also was diagnosed with the Coronavirus in early October. Him testing positive and the impact this had on his season naturally also was a topic of discussion.
Covid-19 hurt Newton’s comfort within the offense
The first Patriot to test positive during the season, Newton missed 10 days as well as his team’s Week 4 game in Kansas City because of the Coronavirus.
“I got the phone call at 5 in the morning, and it was Saturday so I didn’t need to be up that early. Usually, everybody knows the football schedule on Saturdays, it’s just walkthroughs. We had a later start time and when the phone call came, I thought I was dreaming. The athletic trainer called me and he was like, ‘You tested positive.’ I didn’t know what to think,” Newton said.
“Throughout that whole time I was out, I was just waiting like, ‘What am I supposed to feel?’ Day One went by, Day Two went by, Day Three. And after Day Five I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s up? Am I supposed to be feeling sick? Is this supposed to be feeling like the flu? Is this supposed to be scratchy throat?’ I didn’t know what it was, I thought it was a false positive because that was the word that was going around.”
Newton’s test was legitimate, and he did not remain the only member of the team to be diagnosed with Covid-19. Even though he experienced virtually no symptoms — the only noticeable difference was his inability to smell during the whole ordeal — he struggled after his return against the Denver Broncos in Week 6.
“By the time I came back, I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “A lot of that discomfort came pre-snap. I’ve always valued my talents as something that’s improv, like, ‘I’m going to make a play, I know how to make a play.’ And this system, it dictates by certain things, and working extra with Josh and Jedd ... throughout those times there were times when it was just like, ‘Hold on...’ I’m lost. I’m thinking too much.”
Newton started the season well but eventually finished it as one of the least effective throwers in the NFL. While he did complete 65.8 percent of his passes, he only gained 2,657 yards in the process and also threw just 8 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. He looked much better running the ball — he gained 592 yards and scored 12 times — but at the end of the day simply failed to help New England’s struggling offense.
Getting benched was no surprise to Newton
Newton’s struggles led to him getting benched three times in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham. While the youngster had his fair share of issues as well, he was always put into games that were already out of hand — oftentimes in part due to Newton’s performance.
Accordingly, him getting pulled from the game did not come as a surprise for the starting QB.
“At that particular point in time and throughout the season, everybody knew I was the starter. It wasn’t like I wasn’t quote-on-quote The Guy. But I will say this too, there were times when I knew, ‘I’m about to get pulled.’ And that’s helpless. ... I’m a realist,” he said.
Fred Taylor, who spent two seasons in New England added that the Patriots would always go with the hot hand regardless of status or experience.
Newton calls Bill Belichick the ‘most misunderstood person in all of sports’
Newton, Taylor and Johnson all experienced playing under Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and he was also mentioned at one point during the conversation. Both Newton and Taylor had nothing but positive things to say about the future Hall of Famer.
“I think Bill Belichick is the most misunderstood person in all of sports,” said Newton.
“A hundred percent. A thousand percent,” added Taylor.
“He’s dope as s--t. He is a cool dude,” Newton said. “He understands the game. He’s like a historian of the game. And for you to just sit down and chat with him it’s like, ‘Damn!’ He’s going back, and he’s got film, literally teaching the game.”
Newton still has confidence in New England’s receivers
Chad Johnson, who himself had a rather forgettable one-year stint with the Patriots in 2011, criticized the Patriots for not providing Newton with enough help at the receiver positions — calling for a “dog” to help him out as a go-to-weapon. The quarterback, however, defended the young receiving corps he had to work with.
“It’s not to say that they weren’t, or that they can’t be,” he said. “I do think, Doughboy, I call him — N’Keal Harry — he was battered.”
Singling out Harry was noteworthy, given that he had the highest pedigree of the young players in New England’s wide receiver room: a former first-round draft pick, Harry missed half his 2019 rookie season due to injury and also was unable to stay fully healthy in 2020 after sustaining a concussion against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7.
All in all, Harry finished the season as the number three wide receiver on the depth chart behind Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd. He caught 33 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, far from the production one would expect from a player of his draft status.
The ‘Patriot Way’ is about mental stamina, in Newton’s eyes
A lot of debate ahead of Super Bowl 55 between Tom Brady’s new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the then-reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs was centered around the so-called “Patriot Way” and whether or not Brady or Bill Belichick were more responsible for New England’s two-decade run of success. While no definitive answers were given — Marshall is more on Team Brady, though — Newton shared his opinion on the “Patriot Way.”
“There’s a real thing when they say, ‘The New England Way, the Patriot Way.’ It’s an aura where you’re a machine. Literally. When I did one of the games, I gave them my routine. Waking up at 4:20 just to be out of the house at 4:45,” Newton said. “But at the same time you have to compartmentalize your personal life, compartmentalize your feelings, compartmentalize everything to enhance your mental stamina. ...
“Everything is geared to win, and if you’re not built for that that’s not the place for you. And I say this, that’s not the place where you want to lose either. And I found that out the hard way.”
Tom Brady was hanging over Newton’s head
Newton did not address the pressure he was under as the “new guy” in the Patriots’ offense during the season, but he did point out that following Tom Brady impacted his approach to being the team’s starting quarterback.
“We all know who I was behind, and I wanted to make sure I gave everybody confidence knowing that I was doing everything right.”
Brady led the New England offense for nearly two decades, while establishing himself as the greatest quarterback of all time — something Taylor mentioned more than once during the discussion. The short-time Patriot, however, also made one key observation: the team thought highly enough of Newton that it would redesign its offense to fit the quarterback’s skillset.