Cam Newton’s Presence Already Being Felt In Patriots’ Quarterback Room

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It turns out, many words were wasted on New England Patriots quarterbacks not named Cam Newton this winter and spring.

The Patriots were forced to trim their roster to 80 players — lest they practice with a split-squad at 90 men — and out went undrafted rookie quarterbacks J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke.

Neither player actually had the opportunity to practice in front of Patriots coaches before getting the ax. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason workout program was held virtually. Players participated in meetings with coaches and peers via Webex in April, May and June. Players are set to take coronavirus tests this week, and if they pass, they’ll be allowed in NFL facilities for physicals and equipment this weekend.

The soonest a Patriots quarterback will be allowed to pick up a football at Gillette Stadium is Aug. 3, during the strength and conditioning portion of the acclimation period when walkthroughs are permitted.

So, Smith and Lewerke got a raw deal. In any normal spring and summer, the rookie QBs would have received ample opportunities to show how they could help an NFL team in organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and preseason. Unless they get scooped up by another team, which is possible, or get re-signed during the season as practice squad players, Smith and Lewerke’s NFL dreams are over before they ever really started. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic and Newton’s signing.

If the Patriots had not added Newton, then it’s likely at least one of those rookie quarterbacks would have stuck around throughout the summer and possibly into the season on the practice squad. But the Patriots aren’t going to keep more than three quarterbacks when their roster is capped at 80 players.

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And now, Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer fill out the Patriots’ quarterback room, with Stidham, 23, taking on the role of the youngin in the group.

Newton, 31, has 124 career starts under his belt since being drafted first overall in 2011. Hoyer, 34, has started 38 games in 11 seasons. Stidham never has started an NFL game and attempted just four passes last season as a rookie behind Tom Brady.

It will be fascinating to see how this group shakes out during an offseason filled with uncertainty. The NFL is foregoing its preseason and essentially cramming the offseason workout program, minicamp and training camp into the next six weeks. What’s essentially the offseason workout program will run from July 28 to Aug. 11. Aug. 12 to 16 will basically be OTAs and minicamp. And then training camp begins Aug. 17 and runs through Sept. 6. The Patriots’ season begins Sept. 13 against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

So, Newton, Stidham and Hoyer will battle it out over the next six weeks to see who will start that opening game. All three players worked with Patriots receivers during the summer break. Stidham and Hoyer have a better knowledge of the Patriots’ offense. Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, is the far more accomplished player with starting experience on his side.

Newton is the favorite. But if injuries or the truncated offseason get in his way, then Stidham or Hoyer will take over in at least the interim. Stidham has significantly more upside than Hoyer and still could be the franchise’s future at the position. Hoyer certainly would be both the safest and most boring option for the Patriots to trot out.

It will be difficult for Newton to fully acclimate by mid-September, but his mobility will be a significant advantage if the Patriots must simplify their offense. Option routes and non-verbal communication could be replaced by read-options, run-pass options and designed runs. A simplified offense featuring Stidham or Hoyer wouldn’t come with the threat of Newton’s legs, which have produced 4,806 rushing yards over his nine-year career.

So, Smith and Lewerke are out as Newton arrives in New England. Now, it’s time to sort out the depth chart.

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Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images

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