FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Timing and flexibility. These are at the heart of the New England Patriots‘ decision to bring quarterback Cam Newton back on a one-year deal that could be worth up to $14 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The timing is critical with NFL free agency set to begin Wednesday and the Patriots expected to be heavily invested in pass-catchers. Money is often the most important factor for any tight end or wide receiver, but as top free agent Hunter Henry previously said, a good quarterback in place also matters.
Newton’s presence, despite a 2020 season that he said didn’t meet his personal standard and that has a passionate part of the fan base lighting up local sports radio Friday morning with disappointment, could be enough to tip things in the Patriots’ favor in a competitive bidding situation.
Players gravitate to him. Longtime Patriots safety and captain Devin McCourty is among those who has previously endorsed his return.
As for flexibility …
So much of the quarterback carousel has been out of the Patriots’ control this offseason, such as whether the San Francisco 49ers would trade Jimmy Garoppolo. Bringing back Newton, someone they know well who has become a champion of their program and wanted to return, was one of the few appealing options to the team while still retaining flexibility at the position.
In that sense, this could be described as the “Cam And” plan.
Newton’s return doesn’t mean the Patriots are done at quarterback. They still have plenty of salary-cap space (they entered Friday with $56,316,719 according to Roster Management System) should an unexpected opportunity present itself in the future (e.g., Garoppolo), including in the 2021 NFL draft next month. A key point is that while Newton’s contract is worth up to $13.6 million, about $6 million is tied to honors and how far the team might advance in the playoffs, per sources.
The move also potentially tips the team’s hand on what is to come in free agency.
The Patriots finished last season 30th in the NFL in passing yards, averaging 180 per game. They were 30th in interception percentage, 27th in total yards and 27th in points scored.
If they thought Newton was the primary reason for those struggles in the passing game, they would have looked elsewhere. Bringing him back seems to be an admission that the Patriots didn’t put Newton in the best position to succeed with the wide receivers and tight ends around him.
Those could be the next big dominoes to fall.