Most of us are probably at the point where hearing someone’s take on Cam Newton is like hearing them run through their fantasy football results on Monday morning at the water cooler. We’ll listen and nod along, sure, but we’re probably mentally engineering a way to grab a donut and pull a “welp, see ya later!” to escape the break room as we speak.
The only thing that could’ve changed anyone’s opinion on Cam, whether said opinion was good, bad or ugly, was the 2021 season. Newton’s performance in 2020 was what it was. But after the New England Patriots spent record amounts of guaranteed money in free agency, not to mention retaining key offensive captains like David Andrews and James White and exercising left tackle Isaiah Wynn’s fifth-year option, the “weapons” excuse clearly is no longer a thing. Neither is the excuse of learning a new offense.
That being said, after the draft, Cam’s margin for error dropped to somewhere between thin and Thin & Crispy. And after the preseason, said margin for error became roughly razor-thin, if not non-existent.
Even if Newton had won the starting job outright in August, which more than a few of us assumed would be the case, let’s be real; the minute he had his first interception, or his first sub-300-yard passing game, or even took a killshot to the ribs and lost a fumble, every week the questions would get louder on when, not if, head coach Bill Belichick would make a change.
In that sense, it was probably best that Belichick ended all that speculation about who’d be the starting quarterback and just how much of a leash that quarterback had before the season even started, and decisively so. Not just by naming Mac Jones the starting quarterback well in advance of Week 1, but by going full YOLO and doubling down by cutting Newton outright instead of relegating him to a backup role and risking either bad blood, escalating pressure on a rookie from a 2015 NFL MVP breathing down his neck, doubt on whether the team truly believes the No. 15 overall pick is ready, or any combination of all the above, really.
And with that transaction in the books, it would’ve been easy enough for Belichick to default to any of his walk-in closet of passive-aggressive one-liners when he was asked about Cam’s tenure here. Including, but not limited to:
“We’re only here to talk about players that are on the team.”
“The team is focused on the Miami Dolphins.”
“We made the decision that’s best for the team.”
“He tried hard, we tried hard, it just didn’t work out.”
And so on.
But he didn’t.
Our own venerable scribe Oliver Thomas has Belichick’s full comments from his interview on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” on Tuesday, and while Bill’s famously tight-lipped about anyone on his own team but is always down to gas up the best special-teams player on whoever’s on the schedule this week, he went out of his way to go more in-depth on Cam’s year-and-some-change in New England. Here’s what Bill’s full answers were:
“It’s always difficult when you have to reduce your roster. A lot of guys that worked hard, a lot of guys that performed well and had either good years for us or good careers,” Belichick said. “I respect all those things. But each year is its own year, and I have to do what I feel is best for the football team. With regards to every decision, that’s what I try to do. But it’s always tough to tell guys that’ve worked hard and given you all they had that you’re not able to keep them.”
“I have nothing but positive thoughts and feelings for Cam,” added Belichick. “He came in here, he worked hard, he gave us everything he had. Right now, our future is going to be Mac at quarterback, so that’s where we’re going to go.”
And on the subject of keeping Cam in a non-starter role:
Belichick was asked whether any consideration was given to retaining the 32-year-old as a backup for the regular season.
“Yeah, there’s always options, and a lot of different things that you give, especially at this time of the year with so many players available before they all hit the practice squad,” he told WEEI. “But in the end, we did what we felt was best.”
A lot of that is classic Belichick, no doubt, but quite a bit of that is also pretty much unprecedented coming from Bill for a player that only spent one season and a training camp here, never mind a player that inarguably performed at a sub-optimal level for large portions of that season in Foxborough.
The coach/GM who’s been famous for 20 years for making cold-blooded business decisions and roster cuts over what seem like pennies in NFL salary-cap terms noted that cuts are “always difficult.”
The coach/GM who’s notoriously more concerned with what you can do right now, this season, than whatever your individual award trophy case looks like from seasons past made it a point to point out that players (and, one would presume from the context, Newton specifically) worked hard and had good Patriots season(s) or good overall careers.
The coach/GM that’s cut veterans and rookies alike for performing in a way that doesn’t match their contract or quite simply getting beat out got in his feels and pointed out “it’s always tough to tell guys that’ve worked hard and given you all they had that you’re not able to keep them.”
The coach/GM who at one point called his entire team losers right before the 2007 season because “you weren’t on the Colts” said twice that Cam and plenty of other guys both worked hard and gave the Patriots everything they had.
And of course, the headline-grabber that could almost be a quote in your high school yearbook, or a pop-punk song, which in my day was basically the same thing:
“I have nothing but positive thoughts and feelings for Cam.”
There’s no reason Bill has to say any of that. He chose to.
And while the cynical read here is that Belichick’s dapping Cam up one last time to make sure everything’s relatively smoothed over with the locker room, which surely contains many Cam fans and young guys who’ve been watching the Auburn Heisman Trophy winner since they were in junior high, that also seems uncharacteristic. When has Bill ever notably cared about the team vibes over plowing ahead with “this is the National Football League, we’re on to (insert next opponent here)”?
The only logical alternative, then, is that Bill said everything he said about Newton because he actually meant it. He meant it when he asserted that Cam’s time in New England was a net positive, that Cam worked hard as expected and gave the team everything he had, and that Cam didn’t fail, per se, the Patriots as a whole just concluded that the future is now and there was more to be gained in the long term by making that call now, as opposed to later this season or even in 2022.
You’re obviously welcome to write this off as a campfire kum-ba-ya or “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” if you’d like, but on the rare occasion that we get what appears to be uncensored Bill Belichick, it would seem like his take is the correct one. Both of the following can be true: The Cam Newton year was a net positive, despite the middling 7-9 finish, and also, and infinitely more importantly, we’re on to the Mac Jones era.
The former’s contribution is appreciated, as it should be. Now the best move for the team is, well, moving on. And that feels like the right attitude to look back on the last 14 months with.