Newton will elevate the Patriots' game, but not enough to scare Chiefs, Ravens
The Patriots aren't known for taking risks, but signing Cam Newton might be a big one. Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Newton will elevate the Patriots' game, but not enough to scare Chiefs, Ravens

Unlike Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston, Cam Newton will have a chance to relaunch his career immediately rather than waiting for an injury to free up snaps. Newton's one-year Patriots deal, after 3½ months in free agency, also transforms a confusing quarterback situation.

Based on name recognition, the Newton-to-New England transaction would give the former MVP an ideal place to reboot and provide Bill Belichick a way for his team to remain a Super Bowl contender. But Newton will face challenges on several fronts.

Adding the 31-year-old standout makes more competitive sense than the Patriots giving the keys to Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick with four NFL pass attempts and zero 20-touchdown pass college seasons. Newton both stands to buy Stidham more development time, after the COVID-19 pandemic nixed a pivotal offseason for Tom Brady's would-be successor, and aligns better with an aging Pats defense – one that will have six projected starters north of 30 by season’s end.

Newton's profile qualifies this signing for the Randy Moss-Antonio Brown tier of Patriots gambles. The nine-year Panthers starter is a three-time Pro Bowler, the NFL’s all-time rushing-touchdown king among quarterbacks and he did not exactly have a Moss- or Rob Gronkowski-type presence when he won the 2015 MVP award and piloted the Panthers to Super Bowl 50. But the Patriots did not proceed like a team a quarterback away from a Super Bowl this offseason. They operated like one content with a transition year.

The Patriots ate eight figures of Brady dead money and did little to augment their skill-position situation. They drafted two third-round tight ends, but these prospects will arrive in a bleak year for rookie assimilation – due to the coronavirus-altered offseason. The same skill cadre that helped Brady’s QBR drop from sixth in 2018 to 17th last year largely remains.

Julian Edelman is the NFL’s fourth-oldest active receiver, at 34. N’Keal Harry missing this offseason stings after the 2019 first-rounder played 220 snaps in an injury-marred rookie year. The Pats ranked 15th in rushing DVOA last season, and famed offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s second retirement will not help. This situation, personnel-wise, may remind Newton of some of his past setups. And he is at a different stage of his career compared to when he took Carolina to a Super Bowl when a sizable gulf existed between Greg Olsen and his next-best target.

Since the Panthers’ Super Bowl loss, Newton’s cumulative QBR figure ranks 30th. He has undergone two shoulder surgeries and a foot operation, missing 16 of his past 18 games. Newton played well before his shoulder relapse in 2018, adjusting to then-new Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense and leading the Panthers to a 6-2 start. He had a full offseason to learn Turner’s system and work with teammates. Those luxuries/necessities are not available now.

Considering the uncertainty Josh Allen brings for the Bills, the Patriots’ odds at winning a 12th straight AFC East title received a boost Sunday. That would be a major win for this year's team. New England’s 12-4 2019 showing came against mediocre competition -- four wins over teams with 2020 top-five picks, five more against .500-or-worse opposition. The Pats also have a tougher schedule than usual. Their 2020 docket features an NFL-high .537 opponents’ win percentage (based on 2019 records).

This move does give the Patriots exclusive Newton negotiating rights, opening a window for a long-term partnership – depending on this season's outcome. And it will give offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who received a head-coaching shot based on Matt Cassel’s 11-5 2008 season (with a better Pats roster), more to work with than the winner of a Stidham-Brian Hoyer competition.

But the current circumstances point to Newton elevating the Patriots to an upper-middle-class team -- at best -- rather than making them a serious threat to the Chiefs or Ravens in the conference.

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

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