For the last three months, we have all speculated on where 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton would end up. Where would he sign and would he be promised a starting job with the team or would he have to settle on a backup gig for much less money like Jameis Winston did with New Orleans? How could a team sign him without a full medical exam by their doctors? There were far more questions than answers surrounding Newton’s situation.
I actually thought we would have to wait for an injury to another starting QB before Newton found a new home. Well, we got our answer sooner than most of us expected when he agreed to a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the dark side, also known as the New England Patriots. And of course in true Patriot fashion, it was leaked out on the same day that the NFL announced penalties of a third-round draft pick in the 2021 draft and a fine of $1.1 million being levied against the team for a wandering camera crew who just happened to be filming things they shouldn’t have been last fall on a trip to Cincinnati, a week prior to a scheduled game with the Bengals. Why does everything have ESPN’s popular “30 for 30” show written all over it when the Patriots are involved? According to Elias Sports, the Patriots will be the first team in NFL history to both lose and add a former league MVP in the same offseason.
Let’s set aside the drama and side stories to see if we can examine on multiple levels within the organization, why I think this is actually a great fit for all.
Several weeks ago, I pointed out that a general manager’s toughest critics are the people in his own building. The critique comes mainly from the current players on your team who are in the locker room as well as other football people in the building. For Bill Belichick, this signing gives him immediate “street cred” both inside and outside his building. The Patriots needed a face, a leader, a reason to believe they could move forward and win without Tom Brady. Nothing against Jarrett Stidham, who still may be an NFL quality player, but Newton puts this franchise on a different level with its own players. I can promise you, that’s all the head coach of the team cares about. The signing of Newton just raised expectations, perception and excitement levels in New England without any of the participants actually saying a word.
Newton gets criticized a lot but you can’t argue that he is a hard worker, a good teammate and a great competitor. When he walks thru the door, people in that building will say “wow, that is how you draw them up”. His physical presence is attention grabbing. The former Heisman trophy winner is the message himself and just what Belichick needed. He just emphasized to his team that he will do whatever it takes to give the Patriots the best chance to win, even if it initially didn’t seem like a good fit from the outside. I’m telling you, if they had a locker-room full of players today in Foxborough (thanks to COVID-19, they do not), they would all be smiling and there would be a level of enthusiasm. I would certainly love to observe the actions and conversations of the players on a day like today.
From an X and O standpoint, it also makes sense. Obviously offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was consulted and signed off on the deal as well. He has shown in the past that he will alter a scheme to fit the skill sets of different players. It’s also probably one of the most underrated things Belichick has done for years as well. Some have brought up the comparison of what McDaniels did in Denver with QB and former first-round pick Tim Tebow under his tutelage. Newton is head and shoulders a better passer, a better runner, and overall just a better player. Pats fans are going to see RPO’s as well as some individual routes to back up a lot of play action and a slightly more college-like spread offense than what they saw under Brady. All of what Newton brings, together with an already proven run game and stout group of interior offensive lineman, should make for a balanced attack. Patriots fans probably won’t see a guy stand back in the pocket, process and read progressions from a stationary position like they have grown to love with TB-12 for the last 20 years. Doing that would not be using Newton’s skill set the best way and both Belichick and McDaniels recognize that. It’s going to be something new for everyone involved with their organization but I like this acquisition.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the fit at the ownership level. Let’s face it, Boston has taken some hits as of late with the racial injustices that have come out with regard to the Red Sox and how their fans have treated black athletes in the past. I don’t think this signing had anything to do with race, but I do think it sends the right message and gives many a chance to right the ship. The entire New England area now has a chance to fully support the new face of the Pats, who just happens to be black. From a marketing standpoint, I think the same excitement that will be prevalent in the locker room will also now be prevalent on the street and it should translate into a lot of #1 Pats jerseys jumping off the shelves. I LOVE IT.
Sometimes opposites do attract and make a great combination.