The biggest item on the New England Patriots’ offseason to-do list is addressing the quarterback position after a sub-par performance in 2020. The team currently has only two passers under contract, with two others headed for unrestricted free agency.
Among them is last year’s starter, Cam Newton.
While Newton had a disappointing season throwing the football, he apparently would be open to returning to New England even on a one-year contract. One current Patriots player in support of such an outcome is wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who spoke with the Boston Globe’s Nicole Yang about his offseason and the quarterback question.
“I would absolutely love to have Cam back,” the former first-round draft pick said. “He helped me so much throughout the season, not only on the field with football stuff but with off-the-field stuff, just more about being a professional, about life. He really helped me in all aspects of life last year, so I really do appreciate him for that.
“At the same time, he was a very fun person to play with. I would love to have him back and be able to play with him again.”
More than three months after Tom Brady’s free agency departure last spring, Newton was brought aboard to compete against second-year man Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer for the Patriots’ starting quarterback gig. The former league MVP and long-time Carolina Panthers starter won the training camp competition and went on to start 15 of New England’s 16 games during the 2020 campaign.
Playing in a new system alongside one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL, however, he struggled: Newton did complete 242 of 368 pass attempts for a rate of 65.8 percent, but he only gained 2,657 yards through the air while throwing just 8 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions.
He was more effective as a runner — he carried the football 127 times for 602 yards as well as 12 touchdowns — but still failed to help the Patriots offense overcome its struggles. New England eventually finished the season with a 7-9 record while averaging only 18.6 points per game on the offensive side of the ball. Only three teams were worse.
Despite all that, Newton left a positive impression on Harry during their first season together.
“It was just a great overall vibe every day. Every day, Cam brought energy and just a certain vibe to the locker room and to the field,” he said.
The wide receiver, who originally arrived in New England as the 32nd overall draft pick back in 2019, established a solid connection with Newton early during the season: over the first three weeks of the year, he was targeted 22 times and caught 15 passes for 145 yards.
Following Newton’s Covid-19 diagnosis in early October and a concussion suffered by Harry later that same month, however, his production fell off the proverbial cliff. He finished the year with just 33 catches for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Heading into his third season with the team, the goal therefore is to build on this early stretch in 2020 and to simply get better as a player.
“I feel like I can improve in every aspect. That’s what I’ve been working on,” Newton told the Globe. “Nobody’s expectations are going to surpass the expectations I have for myself. To the naysayers, I don’t really have anything to say. I’m not worried about them. I’m pretty unfazed by them.”
Newton’s future with the Patriots is unclear at this point in time, and Harry’s apparently is as well: according to a recent report, the 23-year-old has generated some trade interest.