Newton reportedly will earn a base salary of $1.05 million for 2020, with just $550,000 being fully guaranteed. He can earn a maximum of $7.5 million based on certain playing-time incentives and bonuses, still a far cry from the going rate for a starting NFL QB, especially one as accomplished as Newton.
All told, this seems like a huge win for the Patriots, right? Even if New England remains high on Jarrett Stidham, Tom Brady’s presumed replacement until Newton arrived, it’s difficult to find much downside in the arrangement. Still, Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive who worked alongside Bill Belichick with both the Patriots and Cleveland Browns, raised an interesting question in a piece published Tuesday on The Athletic.
Lombardi wondered whether the Patriots — suddenly flush with salary cap space in wake of several players opting out of the 2020 season — might need to restructure Newton’s contract if they intend to dip into free agency.
Here’s an excerpt from Lombardi’s column breaking down quarterback competitions across the NFL:
When they had the chance to sign Newton, they never flinched. They know Newton is different and is better right now than Stidham. (Still, that does not mean they are down on Stidham.) They would never have brought Newton in to be the backup. Now, one could argue they put no resources into acquiring Newton, who signed a one-year deal for $1.05 million and is only guaranteed $550,000 but can earn an additional $6.45 million in incentives. However, that offer was situational. Had the Patriots had more cap room, they would have paid Newton more — not necessarily what they would pay a starter, but something more in line with a “make-it” type of contract. The deal as structured will hamper the Patriots unless they rework it, because how can they not pay Newton and then turn around and pay another free agent? That’s not fair to Newton and causes friction in the locker room, and that’s something head coach Bill Belichick would never intentionally create.
So, technically, Newton signed on the dotted line. The Patriots are in no way obligated to pay him more than the agreed-upon amount, and perhaps they won’t, instead choosing to spend their newfound wealth elsewhere or not at all. While Newton sure looks motivated and poised to silence his doubters this season, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots suddenly doubling down on their investment before him ever appearing in a game with New England.
Then again, managing egos is part of making personnel decisions in the NFL, and it’s fair to wonder how Newton — a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the league’s 2015 MVP — inherently would feel about the Patriots throwing money around in wake of signing him to a contract below market value.
Belichick ultimately will need to assess the likelihood of Newton becoming disgruntled, as well as the potential impact that could have on New England’s on-field success in 2020, before determining whether it’s safe to spend freely without reworking the 31-year-old’s deal.