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Analysis: Why re-signing Cam Newton is a good move for the Patriots

Related: Patriots re-sign Cam Newton to a one-year contract

Las Vegas Raiders v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Five days before the official start of free agency, the New England Patriots have re-signed their first player: starting quarterback Cam Newton will return to the Patriots on another one-year deal.

Newton had a challenging first season as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Not only did he join the operation late and had to work with a sub-par supporting cast throughout the year, he also missed some time after a positive Covid-19 test in early October. He eventually finished the season as one of the worst statistical passers in the NFL, but will now get another chance to at least compete for playing time.

Bringing him back may not be the most popular move among Patriots fans but from the team’s perspective it certainly is a good one. Why? Glad you asked.

New England ensures it stays flexible at quarterback

The Patriots retaining Newton for one more year does not mean he will automatically become the starting quarterback again; New England is still expected to make further moves at the most important position on the field in the coming days and weeks. However, the team will at least have a fall-back option in the fold depending on which players will be brought along as well — one that already has experience in the system.

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent quarterbacks would not have been able to offer that. While players such as Jacoby Brissett or Ryan Fitzpatrick might have had some appeal, all things considered Newton gives the Patriots the most flexibility at a reasonable cost.

Newton is a veteran leader in the quarterback room...

All season long, the Patriots’ coaches and players praised Newton for his work ethic and leadership during what was a difficult season not just for him but the entire team. The team captain returning does therefore also ensure that the quarterback room — one that could see the addition of a young quarterback to be groomed into the next starter — will keep a major leadership voice.

...and still a popular player in NFL players’ circles

While the story is a bit overblown given that Trent Brown just re-worked his deal only to return to the Patriots, quarterbacks still have a special pull when it comes to the free agency market. That is especially true at the offensive skill positions which work as close with the QB position as any. Money will do the talking, but Newton could also be factored into the equation when it comes to bringing some help aboard in free agency.

After all, the 31-year-old is still a popular and well-respected player around the league. Jarrett Stidham just does not have the same kind of pull.

Newton’s one-year deal won’t stress the salary cap too much

While Newton’s contract will reportedly be worth “up to $14 million” — a sizable increase compared to the $3.96 million he earned last season — the final breakdown of the salary, signing bonus and potential incentives will determine how much it weighs on the Patriots’ books this year. But even if much of the deal will translate directly into a salary cap hit, which is highly unlikely, it will not tip the scales too much from New England’s perspective.

After all, the team entered the weekend with $64.5 million in available cap space. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets were projected to have more room under their respective caps. Paying a quarterback with starter-level experience and upside $14 million is a good deal from New England’s perspective, especially when comparing it to other passers around the league.

Just look at it this way: the New Orleans Saints are paying Taysom Hill $16.2 million in 2021. Newton getting up to $14 million on another heavily incentive-laden deal is not bad value.

The only way is up after the 2020 season

There is no denying that Newton’s 2020 season was bad, but there are some careful reasons for optimism from New England’s perspective. His supporting cast will likely be better this year; he will have more time to learn the playbook and work with his teammates; the Coronavirus factor might play a bigger role this season. Add it all up, and you can see why Newton and the Patriots might be in a much more favorable position now than they were a year ago.

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