Cam Newton's run of bad luck is over.
After two straight seasons ravaged by injuries, the 2015 MVP became a free agent at the worst possible time. A global pandemic prevented teams from getting a clear medical picture of Newton during an offseason awash in quarterback options and teams convinced they had found "The Guy." Many of those teams will look foolish by late fall because many teams always look foolish by late fall. Newton, meanwhile, should be in the thick of a playoff race.
The Patriots agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with Newton on Sunday was a no-brainer for Bill Belichick and a rare ray of light in a dark year for NFL fans who were eyeing all those Jarrett Stidham prime-time outings with pursed lips. More importantly, the marriage with Belichick and Patriots play-caller Josh McDaniels provides Newton a chance to reset a brilliant career that remains unfulfilled. As great as Newton was in 2015, nearly everything since has been a letdown. He played like a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in 2016 and '17 after his play-caller, Mike Shula, turned back into a pumpkin and the Panthers struggled to put the right pieces around him. After an excellent start under new coordinator Norv Turner in 2018, Newton's recurring shoulder problems torpedoed that season and a foot injury ruined 2019. Now Newton goes from jobless to a rare opportunity to revive his career.
In New England, Newton will play behind one of the league's best and most stable offensive lines. The team's versatile backfield remains deep and its veteran defense is coming off one of its best seasons under Belichick. After spending much of his career under Shula in Carolina, Newton will play for a coaching staff that has proven it can maximize strengths and cover up weaknesses (including when Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett started games). Newton also jumps from one of the league's best divisions to one of its worst. If anyone says that the Patriots are a poor fit for Newton just because of a shaky wideout group, they aren't paying attention. The wait to find a job was uncomfortable. The contract is wild for a player of Newton's stature, but landing in Foxborough is close to a best-case scenario. Now it's on Newton to show he can stay healthy.
Everything written about Newton and the Patriots will come with a huge asterisk. No one knows how Newton's shoulder will hold up, although it looked promising last offseason before he hurt his foot last August. It also remains to be seen how that dreaded Lisfranc injury impacts Newton's ability to move. There has never been a quarterback quite like Newton, a streaky passer with one of the biggest arms in football who just so happens to be the best red-zone runner of his generation.
Newton's health, of course, is the only reason why he's available. If just one other team in the league valued Newton for Chase Daniel money, he would have found a job before he was cheap enough for Belichick to pounce. The Patriots, who entered this weekend with under $1 million in cap space, will sneak Newton on to the roster with a "bare minimum" base deal, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, that could be worth up to $7.5 million in incentives. While we still need some details to come in, Tom Brady is going to cost the Patriots far more on the salary cap ($13.4 million) than Newton, Stidham and Brian Hoyer combined.
All those "Patriots believe in Stidham!" narratives look problematic now, yet they give New England too much credit for this master plan. It's not like Belichick Jedi mind-tricked the entire rest of the league into allowing Newton to sign for a minimum deal. If any team had wanted Newton over the last three months, the Patriots were ready to roll with Stidham. They will still need to be ready to roll with Stidham if Newton can't prove he's healthy. This signing isn't about Stidham, it's about Belichick being Belichick, taking ridiculous value wherever it presents itself, like the Randy Moss trade once upon a time.
If Newton is healthy, I'm not that interested in the quarterback battle stories that will arise from Belichick not revealing anything in August. A healthy Newton is going to win that battle 10 times out of 10 and will force the Patriots to build the offense around him.
McDaniels -- and Belichick -- should be thrilled. Because he always had Brady, McDaniels hasn't routinely received the credit he deserves for being ahead of NFL scheme trends. As the Patriots struggled to contain athletic quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson the last few seasons, I've wondered if McDaniels was itchy to break out some of his 2010 Tim Tebow Broncos playbook. The Patriots now have a quarterback and an interior offensive line in Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Joe Thuney that could make life difficult on defenses on run-pass option plays. And for all the struggles the Patriots' offense had late last year, a wideout group of Julian Edelman, a healthier Mohamed Sanu and 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry is no worse than the crews Newton rolled with in Carolina.
No team turns on a dime quite like the Patriots, and they will likely attempt to win in much different ways than most of the Brady-era squads. A legitimate chance to play meaningful games under a stable coaching staff is all Newton could have hoped for in his cursed 2020 offseason.
If Cam Newton is going to evolve and thrive in his 30s like the last quarterback to start for the Patriots, he couldn't have found a better place in which to do so than Foxborough.