Cam Newton had the biggest of shoes to fill with the New England Patriots in 2020. Joining the organization as an unrestricted free agent shortly after long-time starter Tom Brady’s departure, he was in an unfavorable position to begin with.
However, Newton was a superstar in his own right when he arrived. A former first overall draft pick by the Carolina Panthers and one-time league MVP, he joined New England as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks to ever play the game and with considerable starter-level experience under his belt.
Unfortunately, Newton never realized his potential as a Patriot. While productive as a runner, he struggled as a passer and went one-and-done after a 7-9 season. While he did re-sign with the team the following offseason, he lost the starting job to rookie Mac Jones.
Newton was released last August, and later returned for a brief stint to Carolina. He remains unsigned as of today.
The 33-year-old has been largely quiet since his departure from New England, but he recently opened up about his 14 months in Foxborough. Appearing on The Pivot Podcast, he offered his perspective about what went wrong.
“The New England experience was a f---ed up situation. I was still learning the offense seven to eight weeks into the season,” Newton said. “I’m learning systems mentally. As a quarterback it’s not just, ‘Can you catch?’ You can disguise that, we’ve all been around teams where it’s like, ‘Ready? Play!’ As a quarterback you have to look the part, act the part and be the part.
“There were countless hours with Jedd Fisch. There were countless hours with Josh McDaniels. There were countless hours with so many different people trying to teach me certain things, and it was just brain overload.”
Newton signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in July 2020, less than a month before the start of training camp. He still earned the QB1 job ahead of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham, and went on to start 15 of the team’s 16 games (missing one due to Covid-19), but had more ups and downs.
As a result, Newton ended the 2020 season as one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. He managed to complete 242 of 368 pass attempts for a rate of 65.8 percent, but only gained 2,657 yards through the air while throwing just 8 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions.
Newton looked the part as a runner — he carried the football 127 times for 602 yards as well as 12 touchdowns — but his skills as a ball-carrier did not make up for his deficiencies throwing the ball. According to the man himself, the information overload was partly to blame for that.
“There were times I was going to the line and I’m still thinking,” he said. “I’m thinking about the annunciation of the play. I’m thinking about forgetting my motions. I’m thinking about my sight adjust. I’m thinking about certain things. So, that’s the f---ed up situation.
“Did I know it? Yes. To the degree that I needed to know it in order to show the world that I’m still Cam Newton? No, I didn’t. But I put myself in that situation.”
Despite his struggles, Newton was a well-liked player in New England. He was voted a captain just two months after his arrival, and was a well-spoken representative of a team in the middle of an unprecedented transformation process — moving away from the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
His leadership and demeanor both on and off the field was valuable for the Patriots in 2020, despite the on-field results not meeting expectations. Most importantly, it helped usher in the Mac Jones era.
As for his successor as New England’s QB1, Newton was full of praise.
“I was with Mac Jones. Mac Jones is going to be a great quarterback,” Newton said when Jones’ name came up as a potential bottom-five quarterback in the NFL. “I’d put Mac Jones at that 20-ish threshold. He’s a young gun, and obviously with the guys they are going to build around him from the defense, special teams, offensive side, he’s not the guy that I’m talking about.”