The New England Patriots shocked the sports world yesterday, signing former MVP Cam Newton to a one-year deal. At his best, Newton is one of the most exciting, explosive, and downright dangerous quarterbacks in the league. However, Newton battled injuries over the past couple of seasons and might not be the player he once was. Can he guide the Patriots back to the playoffs and be the short-term answer under center?
Setting Expectations for Cam Newton With New England Patriots
During the prime of his career, Cam Newton was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. While he was never the most accurate quarterback in the game, he could still hit most of his targets and had the arm to reach any part of the field. However, what truly scared defenses was his ability to take off and beat teams on the ground.
Newton hasn’t been healthy in quite some time, so it’s hard to tell how much he has left in his tank. In 2019, Newton missed the vast majority of the season with a Lisfranc injury. In 2018, Newton suffered a shoulder injury halfway through the season and had to undergo major surgery.
The last time we saw a healthy Cam Newton was in the first half of the 2018 season. During that time on the field, Newton had a solid supporting cast in D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey. Newton actually put up solid numbers over that stretch, posting a 100.8 passer rating through the first eight games. The advanced numbers tell a similar story, as Newton’s efficiency was slightly above the league-average rate.
Of course, Newton’s biggest threat is his ability to take off and run with the ball. Newton took off 73 times during the first half of 2018 and averaged 4.68 yards-per-carry. This isn’t bad by any means, but Newton didn’t quite look like his old self when in open space. Hits appeared to have taken their toll, and Newton looked like a league-average scrambler instead of one of the most dangerous rushers in the league.
Of course, there was a reason the Patriots were able to sign Newton at this part of the offseason. Newton’s battled injuries over the past few seasons, and it’s been a while since he’s stayed on the field for a full 16-game season. For all we know, these injuries have completely sapped what made him special.
All players carry an injury risk, but Newton’s is higher than most. The Panthers essentially used Newton as a running back early in his career, and the hits have started to take their toll. It’s no secret that the human body can only sustain a certain number of hits, and Newton’s hit counter is pretty high. Unfortunately, the odds of him staying upright for a full 16-game season are pretty slim.
Additionally, Newton’s last season of solid play came with an above-average supporting cast. Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in football, D.J. Moore made a contribution right out of the gate, and Curtis Samuel is one of the NFL’s most underrated receivers.
Newton is jumping into a much worse situation in 2020. The Patriots are led by 34-year old Julian Edelman. At his best, this version of Edelman is maybe a top-20 receiver and carries plenty of injury risk on his own. The rest of the depth chart is a complete unknown. N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers left a lot to be desired as rookies, although it’s obviously way too early to make any sweeping declarations about their careers. Rookie tight ends always need a season or two before they’re ready to contribute, and there is no reason to believe Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are the exceptions. Mohamed Sanu has been in the NFL for a while and has never been anything more than a depth receiver.
How Good Are the Patriots With Cam Newton?
Signing Cam Newton makes the Patriots a better team in the short term, but he’s not enough to make New England a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Newton’s long injury history makes him unlikely to play a full season at a high level, and his rushing ability isn’t what it once was.
Additionally, the supporting cast is still awful. Newton has a history of making the most out of a bad supporting cast, but he hasn’t done it consistently since 2015. This offense will have its moments, and the defense will still be one of the better units in the league. However, they still lack the firepower to go blow-for-blow with elite AFC teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. If Newton plays a full season, look for the Patriots to go 9-7 and probably win the division.
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