We have been waiting to see where Cam Newton would play football next after he was released by the Carolina Panthers back in March. As other veterans signed during free agency and then the NFL Draft came and went, it appeared that Newton’s last attempt at a starting job in 2020 was with New England, and that marriage inevitably came true Sunday evening.
Former NFL MVP Cam Newton has reached agreement on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the New England Patriots, league sources tell @mortreport and me.
Newton now will step into the mix to try to help replace former Patriots’ QB Tom Brady.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 28, 2020
Newton found a tough time due to the restrictions of this offseason proving his health in front of team doctors, but an incentive-laden contract is what he was forced to take. The Patriots also had next to no available cap space, so the two sides were also forced to get creative from the organization side as well, which may have compounded matters along with Newton’s physical status. But after the Patriots failed to draft a quarterback, which left them with 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer at the top of their depth chart, many believed Newton and the Patriots coming to an agreement made a lot of sense.
Compounding matters of health, Carolina went 0-8 over Newton’s past eight starts with the team, averaging just 19.3 points per game. To be fair to Newton outside of pedestrian team point totals, seven of those eight losses were by a touchdown or fewer with four by three points or less. But despite completing 64.9% of his passes over those eight games, Newton averaged just 6.9 yards per pass attempt while throwing nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions in those games while combining to rush for 33 times for 144 yards and zero touchdowns. The past four games we have seen Newton on the field, he has not even thrown a touchdown pass nor had one on the ground. Entering this offseason, Newton has a plethora of red tape.
Cam Newton Career Passing Stats
Newton just turned 31 years old last month and is coming off a Lisfranc injury that resulted in him appearing in just two games a year ago. Newton was injured in the preseason, but appeared in the first two games before reinjuring his foot. That injury required surgery that Newton had this past December. In what was largely a throwaway season for Newton on hardly a tangible sample while injured, it is tough to get a feel for what we would have seen from Newton. This was also coming off offseason shoulder surgery, the second time in three seasons that Newton required his right throwing shoulder to be operated on.
Prior to that second shoulder surgery, Newton was arguably having the second-best passing season of his career in 2018 before he was shut down for the final two weeks. He easily had the highest completion percentage of his career (67.9%) while he posted his highest yards per pass attempt (7.2 Y/A) since winning the MVP in 2015 and passed for the most yardage per game (242.5 yards) in any season since his rookie campaign in which he played more than the two games he was on the field.
For fantasy purposes, we have always taken whatever passing we could get from Newton. Newton has finished higher than QB19 in passing points per game just once in his career (that MVP season), but has still finished as the QB13 or higher in fantasy points per game in every season outside of last year while finishing as the QB8 or higher in points per game in seven of the first eight seasons of his career because of what he accomplished with his legs.
Cam Newton Career Rushing Stats
With the foot injury, Newton ran just five times in his two games last season without positive yardage. Not unlike running backs, we have seen mobile quarterbacks have diminishing returns rushing as they hit their thirties and Newton was along a similar path with his two lowest seasons in terms of rushing points per game coming over his previous three seasons to last year. But even with his fantasy points on the ground beginning to show some signs of dipping, the last time Newton was nearly fully on the field in 2018, he still was second among all quarterbacks in rushing attempts overall, despite missing two games, and ranked fourth in fantasy rushing points per game.
Rushing output has made up at least 25% of Newton’s final fantasy total in every season of his career discounting 2019, so his health and rushing viability moving forward are vital given how little we have been able to count on him through the air over his career.
The New England roster is not exactly flush with skill players, either. A year ago, the Patriots ranked 23rd in yards per offensive play (5.2 yards) but it was even worse than that outside of the opening six weeks of the season. From Weeks 7-17, New England averaged just 4.9 yards per offensive play, which was 25th in the league. That seasonal mark was the fewest yards per play the Patriots have averaged in a season since 2006.
Julian Edelman (100-1,117-6) was still productive a year ago, but will be 34 years old to start the season and has not caught a pass from a non-Brady passer since the 2016 season. First-round draft pick from last season, N’Keal Harry did not take the field until Week 11 and managed just 12 catches on 24 targets for 105 yards (8.8 Y/R) with two scores while active. Mohamed Sanu will turn 31-years-old this August and was a colossal bust of a trade last season, catching 26 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown in eight games with the Patriots. With Edelman already locked into his position, Sanu went from playing 84% of his snaps in the slot with Atlanta to just 32% inside with New England.
Newton has not exactly had a lot to work with over his career in terms of surrounding talent. He did win an MVP throwing to Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn, Corey Brown and company in 2015….but it is arguable that when we last saw Newton in 2018, his surrounding core of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Devin Funchess, and what was left of Greg Olsen that season is subjectively better than what he is inheriting currently in New England.
Assuming Newton is the starting quarterback for a veteran team still with a championship window yet to be closed, this could be a vastly different New England offense than what we have seen in the past that shifts to a run-heavy approach paired with their strong defense. Newton’s career-high in pass attempts for a season is 517, while he has eclipsed 500 pass attempts just twice in his career. This while only playing for a winning team in three seasons.
Over his first seven seasons in the league, Newton’s Carolina teams averaged 64.0 offensive plays per game, with a 54.2% passing rate that averaged out to 555.9 passing plays per season. Since 2011, the Patriots have averaged 68.2 offensive play per game with a 58.2% passing rate and 635.5 passing plays per season. Even a year ago, the Patriots were third in the NFL in plays run while ninth in passing plays.
Even if the Patriots do play some of the tempo they played under Tom Brady, the team is inherently in for a transition for play reduction overall attached to an increase in rushing rate. Tack on the added signals of adding two tight ends in the draft, franchise tagging left guard Joe Thuney, and getting center David Andrews back this season, New England should be more run-heavy than at any point with Brady under center.
That is what hurts the wideouts here in Edelman in Harry. On one hand, Newton is a potential upgrade on the unknown floor of Stidham and even on what Brady provided a year ago. on the other hand, play and passing volume are going to be compromised, while an unknown floor still exists for both players.
Newton is also a touchdown vulture himself in the rushing game. Since entering the league in 2011, only five players have more rushing touchdowns that Newton’s 57 while Newton accounted for 41.6% of his team rushing touchdowns while active from 2011-2018. That is a potential dent to someone such as Sony Michel, who is largely touchdown reliant in nature, to begin with.
Wrapping these initial thoughts up, I do believe they added Newton to be the starting quarterback given the state of the franchise. I slotted Newton initially in at QB14 overall after running projections on him based on 14 starts. A healthy and running Newton is a high-end fantasy asset. Newton’s health, passing acumen, and surrounding talent have all been question marks before over the course of his career and he has still provided strong fantasy outputs. But those question marks at age 31, coming off a foot injury, changing teams in one of the most unique offseasons the sport has ever had, while paired with a defense that may not require a ton of heavy lifting are all in play. At a position that has fantasy points readily available in 1QB formats, you do not have to take many chances at all to succeed. Devil’s advocate is that because quarterback points are so readily available, you can take the swing on Newton’s ceiling and have a safety net to then stream the position should his health or rushing ability be compromised.
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