A lot will be said about Cam Newton over the next few days. With the Newton era in New England now reportedly over, it’s time to assess what was one of the weirder Patriots careers in recent memory.
Many likely boil Newton’s New England tenure down to a singular takeaway that will vary from person to person. However, that wouldn’t be fair to Newton, nor would it be an accurate way to break down his year-plus at One Patriot Place.
The reality is that multiple things can be true when discussing Newton’s Patriots career. For now, let’s focus on three of them.
He was a good guy
Sure, the COVID-19 protocol stuff last week was a bad look, and ultimately might have factored into his release. Vaccine thoughts aside, Newton’s entirely preventable practice absence didn’t set a great example for young players.
But it also was an outlier. Overall, Newton was a great leader and teammate while with the Patriots. It’s clear he was beloved inside the locker, and Bill Belichick’s occasionally confounding loyalty to the 2015 NFL MVP spoke volumes about his feelings toward Newton. From Day 1, Newton handled the unenviable task of replacing Tom Brady by being professional, supportive and hard-working. He deserves a ton of credit for that.
Newton also was a joy to cover. An atypical Patriot in many ways, Newton provided candid, entertaining interviews in ways his predecessor rarely — if ever — did. His Instagram posts were kind of hard to read, but they at least were more interesting than a bunch of pseudoscientific product plugs.
He was not a good quarterback
Newton was better this offseason and probably would have been fine during the regular season. But the 2020 campaign simply wasn’t good enough.
The 11th-year pro was all over the place: sloppy mechanics; poor decision-making; surprisingly average rushing. In 15 starts, Newton passed for 2,657 yards (65.8 completion percentage) to go along with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He racked up 592 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, many of which were delivered in goal-line scenarios.
The Patriots on multiple occasions nearly abandoned the pass entirely and elected to run a low-risk, high school-esque offense. That they were only multiple plays — not converting on the Seattle Seahawks goal line; fumbling on potential game-winning drive in Buffalo — from a winning record and potential playoff spot was a minor miracle.
Newton shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for New England’s struggles last season. Bad roster management, iffy defense (particularly against the run) and middling weapons on offense all contributed to a rough year in Foxboro. Plus, Newton clearly played through pain for much of the season.
Still, he did not play winning football in 2020 — plain and simple.
He kind of got a raw deal
Newton had a lot of built-in excuses last season, and most of them were legit.
He was signed by the Patriots on July 8, roughly four months after the COVID-19 pandemic first upended sports in the United States. We don’t need to give you a history lesson; you know how the pandemic made — and continues to make, really — life difficult for athletes.
What matters is that Newton did not have the traditional offseason he needed to learn the Patriots offense and to develop chemistry with his teammates. OTAs are important, as are minicamps and preseason, all of which were cancelled. Virtual meetings are substitutes, but only barely.
Newton’s regular season began on a promising note, but he got COVID after Week 3, forcing him to miss Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He and the Patriots never quite recovered.
(We’re not going to fault Newton for getting COVID, as we don’t want to speculate about how careful he was or wasn’t.)
Also worth noting: Belichick didn’t exactly give Newton a winning roster. It lacked explosive talent, and was devoid of receivers capable of gaining separation on the boundaries. Plus, Newton’s top tight end was Ryan Izzo.
Ultimately, Newton faced an uphill battle from the time he arrived in New England.
History probably will not look fondly on Newton’s Patriots career. Fair or not, that’s what happens when you’re the quarterback for a franchise’s first losing season in two decades. It is what it is.
But there was plenty of good to go with the bad, and Newton deserve the former to be talked about as much as the latter.
Most importantly, Newton’s Patriots tenure was one of legitimate — and, in some cases, unprecedented — nuance.