The New England Patriots’ biggest need heading into the 2021 offseason was the quarterback position. With Tom Brady now winning Super Bowls in Tampa Bay and the Patriots having struggled to field competent play at the most important spot on the field en route to a 7-9 campaign in 2020, upgrading at QB was paramount.
With free agency still five days away, the Patriots may not have done that just yet, but they at least made a first move to ensure some stability and flexibility: New England re-signed Cam Newton to an incentive-laden one-year pact.
While this move does address the number one position on the roster in terms of need, the question is whether or not re-signing Newton is enough to push it from the top spot. Before trying to answer it, though, let’s take a look at the needs-based ranking we published earlier during the offseason and before this week’s flurry of moves (please click here for that run-down and a more comprehensive analysis of each spot):
1. Quarterback, 2. Linebacker, 3. Wide receiver, 4. Interior defensive line, 5. Interior offensive line, 6. Defensive edge, 7. Tight end, 8. Offensive tackle, 9. Running back, 10. Cornerback, 11. Safety, 12. Kicker, 13. Fullback, 14. Long snapper, 15. Punter
Re-signing Newton is one of three moves the Patriots have made so far this week. They also re-acquired offensive tackle Trent Brown via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders and, later on Friday, re-signed impending free agent Justin Bethel to a three-year pact.
With those two transactions now also factoring into the overall composition of the roster five days before the official start of free agency, we can now update the needs list after the signing of Cam Newton. Will quarterback remain on top? Let’s find out:
15. Punter (-): With Jake Bailey still on his rookie contract and coming off an All-Pro season, the Patriots have no need whatsoever to add another punter to the equation. They are set for years to come.
14. Long snapper (-): Joe Cardona is one of the best long snappers in football and as such a cornerstone of New England’s kicking game operation. He is still only 22 years old and under contract through the 2022 season.
13. Fullback (-): With Danny Vitale scheduled to return off the Coronavirus opt-out list, the Patriots are well-stocked at fullback. Vitale and incumbent Jakob Johnson will compete for the role during the summer.
12. Kicker (-): Nick Folk is headed for free agency. Even if New England is unable to retain him, however, Justin Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo offer some emergency options to work with. The veteran and draft markets also include some potential for investment if Folk should take his talents elsewhere.
11. Safety (-): Even though Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are into their 30s and closer to the end of their respective careers than the beginning, they are expected back in 2021. Together with Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips they will form the core of the safety position this year before handing over the keys to the next generation further down the line.
10. Offensive tackle (-2): With Trent Brown being added to the mix and expected to take one of the starting tackle spots in 2021, the Patriots are in good shape at the position. The team, after all, also has 2020 starters Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu available as well as veteran Marcus Cannon. Even if Onwenu moves to guard, the depth is solid at the moment.
9. Cornerback (+1): New England is expected to tender restricted free agent J.C. Jackson, which will allow the team to keep its top cornerbacks around for 2021. That said, there are some questions at the position related to possible trade candidate Stephon Gilmore and free-agent-to-be Jason McCourty — questions Justin Bethel cannot addresss.
8. Running back (+1): The early-down role is in good hands with Damien Harris and Sony Michel both under contract through 2022 and 2021, respectively. The receiving and change-of-pace roles, however, are up in the air with both Rex Burkhead and James White headed for free agency. Some reinforcements might be needed.
7. Interior offensive line (-2): While New England did not address the interior offensive line per se this week, the addition of Trent Brown still gives the team some flexibility should starting left guard Joe Thuney depart in free agency: with Brown in the mix, Michael Onwenu might be free to move to the interior and take over for Thuney. With center David Andrews a free agent as well, and the depth a question mark too, more moves could be in the pipeline.
6. Tight end (+1): The Patriots invested two third-round draft picks in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene last year, but so far the return has been disappointing: the two combined to catch just five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown all season. The circumstances did them no favors, but New England would still benefit from adding more quality to the position.
5. Defensive edge (+1): Chase Winovich and Josh Uche have the potential to be a quality one-two punch at the defensive edge/outside linebacker position. However, New England will need to address the depth behind them because none of the players currently under contract inspire much confidence that they can perform at a starter-level workload.
4. Interior defensive line (-): With their top three interior defensive linemen from a year ago all headed towards free agency — Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr. — and with the position as a whole struggling last year, the Patriots are in need to add some talent over the offseason. Re-signing at least one of their free agents would be a good start.
3. Wide receiver (-): One of the main issues for the Patriots’ struggling passing offense in 2020 was the lack of quality talent at the wide receiver position. New England is therefore in the market for some major upgrades even after having invested a first-round draft pick in N’Keal Harry just two years ago. No matter if Cam Newton or another passer starts under center in 2021, last year’s wide receiver performance cannot be duplicated if the team wants to have some offensive success.
2. Linebacker (-): Even though Dont’a Hightower is expected back from his Coronavirus opt-out, the Patriots should improve the depth at the position. Philosophically, after all, Bill Belichick has always built his defenses around the linebacker position. Having capable and consistent players is the key to this — something that was not the case in 2020.
1. Quarterback (-): Even with Cam Newton re-signing, quarterback remains the number one need on the Patriots’ current roster. Why? Newton has disappointed as New England’s starter in 2020 and is not a long-term solution. Keeping him around as a veteran leader and mentor for a potential draft pick is a good move, but it does not change the overall urgency that a new franchise quarterback needs to be added soon.
As can be seen, there were only some minor changes to the list — and none of them tied to Newton being brought back. The veteran quarterback might play a prominent role in the Patriots’ offense again this year, and be it as a leader within the QB room, but his re-signing is not as impactful as the trade that brought Trent Brown back to New England.
How would you grade the Patriots’ decision to re-sign Cam Newton?
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