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Cam Newton set to sign with Patriots, but I have doubts he’ll start against Rams next season

How much magic can Bill Belichick pull out of a quarterback?

NFL: SEP 12 Buccaneers at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are set to host a “Super Bowl rematch” against the New England Patriots on Dec. 10, Sunday Night Football. The Patriots were the last team in the league to not really have a known or experienced starting option at quarterback (outside of backup Brian Hoyer, who should keep the “backup” title) but that changed with their reported intention to sign Cam Newton.

Many have speculated that Newton would sign with New England because he was the most well known free agent and they had the most obvious need at the position and now Bill Belichick is able to acquire him for a contract that only goes up to $7.5 million with incentives, at most. Should Cam get paid $7.5 million, it would mean the investment must have paid off quite well for the Patriots. Should Cam not win the starting job, it only costs them around $1 million.

It’s a perfect scenario for New England but I’m leaning towards the idea that the starter in 2020 will be Jarrett Stidham.

Since the beginning of his career in 2011, Cam Newton has been one of the NFL’s worst passers. Out of 28 quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 2,000 passes since 2011, Newton ranks 27th in completion percentage, 23rd in passer rating, 15th in yards per attempt, 19th in adjusted yards per attempt, and he had almost the exact same TD:INT ratio as Andy Dalton.

Actually Newton and Dalton, both 2011 draft picks, have really similar passing numbers. Dalton went 70-61-2 as a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, Newton went 68-55-1 as a starter for the Panthers. Dalton had 24 game-winning drives, compared to 17 for Newton. The Bengals went to the playoffs four times with Dalton, the Panthers four times with Newton.

The biggest difference, what you’re screaming at your TVs right now, is the rushing.

Newton’s multi-dimensional talents led to 4,808 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns compared to a surprisingly-respectable 1,221 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns for Dalton. Newton won the MVP award in 2015 when he led the NFL in touchdown percentage by throw 35 of them on only 495 passes, coming as close to a passer rating of 100 as he ever has: 99.4.

Cam also rushed for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns as Carolina went 15-1 against the league’s easiest schedule by DVOA.

Many have said that Newton only started to struggle after 2015, but his 2016-2018 period looks more like regression back towards that passer he was from 2011-2014. He completed an abysmal 52.9% of his passes in 2016, so they drafted Christian McCaffrey the next year and started working on the art of the dump-off. By 2018, Ron Rivera hired Norv Turner to be his next offensive coordinator and then magically Newton’s completion percentage shot up to 67.9% with 124 targets going to McCaffrey.

Forty-two more targets than any other player on the team.

Newton’s completion percentage to his top two wideouts — D.J. Moore and Devin Funchess, — was 64%, but he threw six touchdowns against eight interceptions on those throws. Many have said that Newton’s never had a quality supporting cast, which is bad news to the ears of Greg Olsen, Steve Smith, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey, Ryan Kalil, Andrew Norwell, Jordan Gross, Trai Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Ted Ginn, and Jonathan Stewart.

I certainly don’t think that Cam Newton would say he did it on his own.

In New England, Newton and Stidham will have another supporting cast that may draw criticisms but could be more solid than we are speculating right now. The only question mark on the offensive line is at left tackle, but Isaiah Wynn was a first round pick two years ago and could be great. If David Andrews returns at center, that’s a huge block on Belichick’s offensive line. Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason remain at guard with Marcus Cannon on the right side.

At receiver, Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu return, as does 2019 first round pick N’Keal Harry. Belichick hasn’t done that well with his receiver draftees but now is not the time to write off Harry. A year ago they picked up Antonio Brown at the start of the season and even if that didn’t work out, it’s another example that the Patriots are an attractive option to good veteran players looking for work so another receiver or tight end of note could still be added to the mix here.

Speaking of which, New England doesn’t have any tight ends of note but did draft two third rounders this year in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Mostly I expect that if Newton wins the job though, he’ll be spending most of his attention on James White, who had 95 targets in 15 games out of the backfield last season. Another 69 targets went to Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden, all of whom are returning. That’s over 160 targets to running backs, so the connection between the Patriots offense and Newton is apparent.

Tom Brady also targeted Julian Edelman 153 times last season and we know that’s not as a “deep threat.”

The Patriots seem to want to give Newton a chance because there is little risk and they may not be asking that much of the quarterback next season anyway. I think Jameis Winston found the spot that would’ve been best for Newton, backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans and awaiting an opportunity in relief or in 2021 after a year of acclimating with Sean Payton and Michael Thomas. Instead he goes to New England, where Newton is expected to be the starter. I’m not so sure about that.

Newton’s never been starting at a time when teams didn’t expect him to have the threat of a run. After injuring his shoulder in late 2018 and then missing most of 2019, Newton’s future has become murky for reasons that go beyond completion percentage. If he can’t throw, can he run? If he can’t run, can he throw?

There’s nothing really known about Stidham, but that may be better than what we have come to know about Newton.