When the New England Patriots signed Cam Newton this offseason, everyone had the same question in mind: What is New England’s offense going to look like with a dual-threat quarterback? Perhaps Lamar Jackson helped steer New England toward a system fit for a mobile quarterback, like Newton.
Rumors leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft were that the New England Patriots were serious contenders to select Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Whispers were that Josh McDaniels loved what he saw in Jackson’s game, and saw the potential he could be a dynamic passer in the NFL.
Ultimately, New England opted not to draft Tom Brady’s successor, but rather strengthen his supporting cast by selecting two Georgia products: tackle Isiah Wynn (23rd overall) and running back Sony Michel (31st overall). Jackson was drafted one spot behind Michel by Baltimore.
Maybe the rumors were just that — rumors. Or maybe Belichick didn’t see Jackson as a first-round talent and hoped he’d slide down the board where New England could select their future quarterback in a later round.
I’ll tell you right now, though, I’d rather have Lamar Jackson than Sony Michel.
Jackson showed the entire NFL world what an absolutely electric runner could accomplish from the quarterback position in just his second season. Before 2019, there had never been a player in NFL history rush for over 1,200 yards (7 touchdowns), throw for over 3,000 yards (37 touchdowns) and win league MVP.
During his MVP campaign, Jackson and the Ravens beat New England handily in Baltimore, 37-20. Jackson threw for 163 yards with a touchdown and rushed for 61 yards and 2 touchdowns.
How much of that performance sat with Bill Belichick throughout the offseason?
It’s clear that a lightbulb flicked on in Belichick’s head, and he realized that he finally had the opportunity to replicate that style of offense for his own team now that long-time starter Tom Brady had left for Tampa Bay. It wasn’t just Belichick salivating at the opportunity to revolutionize the Patriots playbook — his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, was like a dog finally let off his leash when New England decided to bring in Cam Newton.
Even though the majority of McDaniels’ play-calling career had revolved around Brady, whenever he was given the chance, McDaniels would call some plays that you wouldn’t be able to find at the front of his play sheet. Proof of McDaniels’ eagerness to coach a mobile quarterback goes back a decade to when he drafted Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft as head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Unfortunately for McDaniels, he was fired after Week 13 of that 2010 season, and never gave Tebow a chance to play before his firing.
Fast-forward to 2016 when Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension because of Deflategate, and McDaniels — now back in New England as the Pats offensive coordinator — drew up a game script for rookie signal caller Jacoby Brissett in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. Brissett carried the ball eight times for 48 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown.
Brissett didn’t just improvise on broken-down plays and pick up yards with his legs; McDaniels drew up RPOs, bootlegs and other designed quarterback runs for Brissett. Plays that were never called upon for Brady to execute.
The fact that Brissett was not only a rookie, but also third on the depth chart at quarterback, it would have been hard for New England to have success running their traditional offense with his inexperience. What’s interesting is that McDaniels most likely already had all of those plays and formations in his back pocket, and could more easily implement them into the game script for that week, rather than get Brissett completely prepared to run the offense as is.
Jimmy Garoppolo even ran some RPOs and designed quarterback runs before injuring his shoulder in Week 2 of the 2016 season. Even though Garoppolo and Brissett aren’t considered mobile quarterbacks, they were at least more athletic than Brady — and McDaniels did not hesitate to take advantage of all the creative plays he had been forced to sit on for so long.
As for Bill Belichick, he has always admired dual-threat quarterbacks and has acknowledged them to be the most difficult to game plan for. Players like Russel Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Colin Kaepernick, along with newly-acquired quarterback Cam Newton, have always drawn high praise from the Patriots head coach.
Belichick may have been more outspoken about Newton than any other mobile quarterback, in fact. Here’s what he had to say about Newton during an interview leading up to New England and Carolina’s Week 4 matchup in 2017:
“I think when you’re talking about mobile quarterbacks — guys that are tough to handle, can throw, run, make good decisions … — I would put him at the top of the list… not saying there aren’t a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say of all the guys we played recently in the last couple of years, I think he’s the hardest guy to (defend). He makes good decisions, can run. He’s strong. He’s hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things. He can beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game in 2013. I would put him at the top of the list. I’m not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are. But he’s maybe public enemy No. 1.”
The proof is right there that Belichick has always feared mobile quarterbacks. The icing on the cake is that Belichick is using his “Public Enemy No.1” to implement a system that he’s been envious of other teams using.
As mentioned earlier, Lamar Jackson broke boundaries for mobile quarterbacks in 2019. Was he the tipping point for Belichick to take the chance on Cam Newton when every other team in the league passed on him? I think Belichick saw the opportunity to grab one of his favorite players in the league while also molding his playbook to both the modern-day and future eras of NFL offenses.