As if it wasn’t clear before, the New England Patriots are the most unpredictable franchise in sports.
It’s become clear over the years that anything is on the table for head coach Bill Belichick. Well, it’s 8 p.m. ET on June 28, 2020 and New England never fails to disappoint. This is still a shocker: The Patriots reportedly signed former NFL MVP Cam Newton to a one-year “incentive-laden” contract.
That’s right. After the initial wave of free agency ended, after former starters like Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton finally found new teams, after organized team activities teaching sessions held on WebEx concluded and just when everyone was getting used to the Patriots’ next starting quarterback being named Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer, the Patriots finally decided to sign a franchise (or, at least, former franchise) quarterback.
This would have been less surprising if the deal had been made in March, April or May. The Patriots were clearly fine rolling with Stidham or Hoyer if they were willing to wait to sign Newton until late June for a bargain basement deal. Perhaps it became obvious to Newton that a better offer wasn’t coming and New England was his best chance at a starting role. Still, the two sides lost some valuable learning time over the last two months during the offseason workout period.
Now, just because it’s surprising does not mean it’s a bad deal. Far from it. Reports indicate the deal is worth up to $7.5 million. That, in itself, is pretty dang good. Newton’s last deal was for over $100 million over five years. Signing a $20 million quarterback for up to $7.5 million is good stuff. That’s tough to argue. All of Newton’s incentives are probably under the “not likely to be earned” banner to keep his cap hit low. So, that makes him an even better deal. And he’ll have to actually hit those incentives to earn them, and if he does, he’ll be worth much more than $7.5 million.
Now, we still don’t know what Newton’s base deal is worth, but it’s less than $7.5 million. And that’s pretty much all we need to know. While many will logically pencil Newton into the Patriots’ starting quarterback job, it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion based on Newton’s contract. He certainly has more raw talent than Stidham, Hoyer or any other QB on the Patriots’ roster. He also only played two games last season and has dealt with shoulder and foot injuries in recent years. His health is paramount before anything is handed to him.
Belichick has long had an affinity for Newton but clearly the quarterback position has been blocked by Tom Brady — who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent this offseason — since he came into the NFL in 2011.
“I think when you’re talking about mobile quarterbacks, guys that are tough to handle, tackle, can throw, run, make good decisions — I mean, I would put Newton at the top of the list,” Belichick said in 2017. “Not saying that there aren’t a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years, I would definitely put him — he’s the hardest guy to deal with. He makes good decisions, he can run, he’s strong, he’s hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in ‘13, so I would put him at the top of the list. Not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are, but he’s public enemy No. 1.”
That’s genuine high praise, by the way. (Duh. The Patriots just signed the guy.)
What might be trickiest for the Patriots is that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is probably going to have to devise three different offenses depending on how training camp and preseason shakes out at the quarterback position. There’s the most traditional system for Hoyer, something that showcases Newton’s rushing ability and one in between for Stidham. If anyone can figure it out, it’s McDaniels who will have help from former NFL offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
A crazy Patriots offseason just got a whole lot more wild with Newton coming to Foxboro for training camp next month. If Newton becomes the Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2020 and hits all of his incentives, then he could wind up being the deal of the offseason. And if he doesn’t? If things go south? This seems fairly low risk, and the Patriots will still have the two guys they were willing to count on if a deal with Newton couldn’t get done.
You’ve got to really hate Newton to dislike this deal. It’s a good risk for the Patriots with a big potential payoff.
And what about Stidham? Keep in mind this is just a one-year bridge deal for Newton. Stidham still could become the Patriots’ franchise quarterback, but he might have to wait another year as the Patriots use Newton as a bridge from Brady.