The 2020 NFL Draft is complete. Most of the notable moves have been made in NFL free agency. Now the biggest offseason question becomes whether anyone, most notably the Patriots, will still sign quarterback Cam Newton.
The Patriots have made only one veteran move in the wake of seeing Tom Brady leave for the Buccaneers. That was bringing back former Brady backup Brian Hoyer. They also didn’t draft any quarterbacks among their 10 overall selections, instead taking two undrafted rookie flyers on Louisiana Teach’s J’Mar Smith and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke.
All that adds up to New England, for now and very likely later, rolling with second-year fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham as its starting replacement for Brady in 2020. That doesn’t mean the Patriots should suddenly act on Newton after no real pre-draft indications that they had plans to add him.
There has been little interest in Newton from any team on the open market. The Saints reportedly are about to sign former Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston as a backup to Drew Brees on a well-below-market deal. That would suggest Newton, who was set to make $19 million for the season if he hadn’t been released by the Panthers, can be now had on the cheap.
So logic would suggest the Patriots signing Newton at this very late stage of free agency would be all reward with absolutely no risk. But consider that the Patriots have only $1 million left under the salary cap. To make room for Newton, even at a reduced rate, they would need to make a move on another player — such as trading left guard Joe Thuney, who signed his franchise tender at nearly $15 million.
There’s one obstacle right there, which would also preclude them from signing or trading for another veteran QB. Should they clear that financial hurdle, there are simply too many other question marks with Newton
Although at one point it seemed intriguing to see what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels could do with a much different kind of QB than Brady, that couldn’t outweigh concerns about Newton’s durability at age 31 and coming off consecutive seasons cut short by respective injuries to his right shoulder and left foot. While vetting his health has been difficult in the current challenging medical landscape, the nature of the virtual offseason also makes it hard to trust that Newton could fully grasp the Patriots’ complicated offense anywhere close to their liking.
If wear and tear at his age weren’t an issue, there would be more confidence that Newton has the rare physical skills to rise back toward the passing and running ceiling he showed as the 2015 NFL MVP. Instead, he’s become the ultimate unknown quantity. That doesn’t mesh with Belichick, who is meticulous about certainty and finding his type of players to “do their job.”
Should Newton go to New England, he would be expected to be handed the starting job, even though at this point anyone who the Patriots bring in would have to compete with Stidham. They have shown great confidence in Stidham by not going after a viable short-term alternative. Newton already has a big personalty that may not mesh with Belichick, especially as an unwilling backup.
When no one else targeted Newton as a replacement starter, why should the Patriots, as shrewd an organization as they come, think it’s a savvy late move? The Patriots are considered the favorites for Newton out of convenience, but the reality is, the longer they’ve gone post Brady without signing him, the lesser the logic associated with ending his free agency.
For any direct shot at starting in 2020, the Jaguars provide the best remaining opportunity for Newton. But they just got out of the Nick Foles expensive bridge mess and should do their due diligence on second-year sixth-rounder Gardner Minshew to figure out whether they need to select a QB high in the 2021 draft, where, as a rebuilding team, they have the best shot at Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
The Broncos had come up as an option for Newton in a similar vein before the draft, but their decision to load up on more offensive skill players suggests they’re all in to lift second-year second-rounder Drew Lock. John Elway may have been enamored with Newton in the past, but he’s now locked into a higher-upside passer.
The Bears are out after trading for Foles as the contingency for Mitchell Trubisky. The Redskins are out after trading for Newton’s former Panthers’ teammate Kyle Allen as the contingency for Dwayne Haskins. The Raiders are out after signing Marcus Mariota as the contingency for Derek Carr.
The last team somewhat on the radar for Newton is the Steelers. There, Newton would need to settle for a Winston-like new No. 2 role behind a future aging Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger. But consider the Steelers chose not to stash a potential successor in the draft, so going after one who’s in his 30s makes little sense. Given Newton’s durability issues, he’s also not he most comfortable backup for Big Ben, coming off a season mostly lost to a major elbow injury.
Nothing happened during the NFL Draft that changed Newton’s frustrating free-agency status. Barring a shocking injury or retirement that forces a team’s hand to be more desperate about finding a potential starting QB for 2020, there’s a good chance he will be out of luck and out of the league after nine seasons.