By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The New England Patriots have positioned themselves extremely well with quarterback Cam Newton. The same can be said for the 31-year-old Newton, who will join New England on a one-year, incentive-laden contract, with the Patriots.
I mean, even without a deal officially signed, the Patriots and Newton find themselves in what feels like a clear win-win.
If Newton rides the bench or is released out of training camp, it’s because second-year pro Jarrett Stidham has lived up to the hype you were fed before Tom Brady even signed his deal with Tampa Bay. “Studham” will have outworked a former MVP and a veteran journeyman in a (likely) abbreviated camp, truly earning the gig like the Patriots envisioned. Everybody wins. Well, except those rooting for the demise of the greatest franchise of the 21st century.
But if Newton starts, it’s because he looks healthy and as motivated as he appears in his hype videos. Because he’s realized this is the make-or-break moment that will decide his future and potentially his legacy. And perhaps most importantly, because Bill Belichick, who has won 13-of-19 non-Brady games over the last 12 years, thinks he can win with Newton under center. Again, if indeed the case, everybody ‘cept for those waiting for the ocean to swallow Gillette Stadium wins.
What a truly terrifying thought for the rest of the NFL.
Now, Newton is not perfect. He’s been anything but of late, with an 0-8 record since Nov. 8, 2018. Injuries have played a major part in that stretch, too, with a shoulder injury that clearly limited Newton in six straight defeats in 2018 (he underwent surgery that offseason) before a preseason foot injury lingered into the regular season and benched Newton after just two starts in 2019.
Newton is also arriving to Foxborough labeled all sorts of strangely personal garbage because of one play that’s defined him.
Truthfully, I have an impossibly difficult time questioning the intestinal fortitude of someone who took that Carolina team to a 17-2 season and was a Von Miller takeover away from an 18-1 title run. Newton could’ve done anything to that fumbled football and it still wouldn’t have changed the fact that he out-rushed Carolina lead back Jonathan Stewart by 16 yards and in half the carries. Or that Ted Ginn Jr. and his feet for hands was Newton’s most targeted receiver in the losing effort. If you watched that offense — and what Newton worked with throughout the majority of his Panthers run, for that matter — the idea that indecision on a play he’d kill for if it meant a do-over means he is ‘selfish’ or ‘doesn’t care’ is d-u-m-b.
(And boy, you’d hate to know who else had a fourth-quarter fumble that ultimately cost his team a Super Bowl.)
But let’s talk more about what Newton is leaving behind with his move from the Panthers to the Patriots.
Over Newton’s final five years as a starter in Carolina, his No. 1 wideout varied, but that guy averaged 59.6 catches, 863.2 yards, and 7.2 touchdowns per season, along with 54.6 yards per game. Over that five-year span, no leading receiver on Carolina had a catch rate percentage higher than DJ Moore’s 67.1 percent in 2018. Moore’s figure blew the competition out of the water, too, with the second-best No. 1 wide receiver rate coming with a 56.8 percent from Devin Funchess in 2017.
Tom Brady’s No. 1 wideout over his final five seasons in New England, meanwhile, averaged 79.6 catches, 969.4 yards, and 5.8 scores per season, and 70.8 yards per game. (As you’d suspect, that man was Julian Edelman in four of those five seasons.) And New England’s top wideout over this sample never had a catch rate percentage lower than 57 percent (Brandin Cooks, 2017).
That means that New England’s worst best wideout over this stretch would’ve been good for Newton’s second-most reliable No. 1. This is also in addition to New England’s top wideout threat averaging 20 more catches and 106.2 more yards per season, as well as 16.2 more yards per game. That’s a big difference.
This is where the Julian Edelman Factor comes into play, as Edelman would honestly be the best wideout Newton has worked with since his three-year run with Steve Smith from 2011 through 2013. That Smith connection was absolutely freakish for Newton, too, as they combined for 216 catches, 3,313 yards, and 15 touchdowns during their three seasons together. Good for an average 72-catch, 1,104-yard, five-touchdown stat line for Smith. (Smith posted these numbers during his Age 32-34 seasons. Edelman, mind you, turned 34 in May and is coming off a career-high 1,117 yards in 2019.)
If Edelman is just Edelman, Newton’s working with his best threat in seven (seven!) years.
But behind Edelman, New England’s second-best wideout should also give Newton a boost compared to his Carolina days.
Over Newton’s final five years in Charlotte, the Panthers’ No. 2 wideout averaged 43.4 catches, 568.2 yards, and 2.8 touchdowns per season, along with 43.8 yards per game. Brady’s second-leading wide receiver over his final five seasons as New England’s starter, meanwhile, averaged 46.6 catches, 620.8 yards, and 3.4 touchdowns per year, and 45.9 yards per game. Now, this isn’t as drastic a win as the Carolina No. 1 vs. the New England No. 1, but it’s still a win.
And assuming Mohamed Sanu’s ankle is completely healed and his workout videos aren’t just empty calories, applying his pre-injury 2019 pace to a 16-game 2020 would see him catch 80 balls for 740.8 yards and four scores next season. That’d be a dream of No. 2 wideout production compared to Newton’s second-most reliable target at the position over his last five years. Hell, you could say Sanu’s actual body of work in 2019, hobbled and all, would’ve been comparable to anybody Newton’s thrown to as his No. 2 wideout since 2014. And you’d be absolutely correct.
- ‘19 healthy Sanu Sr. pace.: 80 catches, 741 yards, 4 TDs, 46.3 YPG.
- ’19 total Sanu Sr. pace: 60 catches, 554 yards, 2 TD, 34.6 YPG
- ’18 Funchess: 44 catches, 549 yards, 4 TDs, 39.2 YPG.
- ’17 Kelvin Benjamin: 32 catches, 475 yards, 2 TDs 59.4 YPG.
- ’16 Ginn Jr.: 54 catches, 752 yards, 4 TDs, 47.0 YPG.
- ’15 Jerricho Cotchery: 39 catches, 485 yards, 3 TDs, 34.6 YPG.
- ’14 Cotchery: 48 catches, 580 yards, 1 TD, 38.7 YPG.
(This isn’t even factoring in the potential and/or likely Year 2 jump from 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry, which could by all means make Sanu Sr. the Patriots’ No. 3 wideout in 2020.)
Again, compared to what he’s had to work with over the last five years, Newton may feel like he died and went to heaven when he gets to work with the New England offense. And after a 2019 that clearly tested Brady’s patience and willingness to adapt on a weekly basis, that attitude is probably exactly what the Patriots want.
It’s not all about the wideouts though, and that feels especially important to note with Newton’s move to New England.
In Newton’s last glimmer of success as a Panther, his go-to targets in the passing game were running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen. Newton actually completed passes to that duo at a fantastic 82.7 percent clip in 2018.
The Patriots actually have a similarly skilled pass-catching back in James White, and White’s one of the only players who’s even come close to matching McCaffrey’s production as a pass-catching back since entering the NFL in 2017. Since then, White and McCaffrey are two of just three backs to catch at least 215 passes, total 290 targets, rack up 1,800 yards receiving yards, and catch at least 10 touchdowns. (Alvin Kamara is the other, in case you’re curious.)
The same cannot be said for the Patriots’ production at tight end, of course. Rob Gronkowski’s retirement really put the Patriots in a hole at the position a year ago, but there’s almost no way that the position is a vast a black hole as it was in 2019. It’s just impossible to imagine, really, and the Patriots’ high-priority investments in Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi at the 2020 NFL Draft speaks to their desire to fire up the production from that spot.
2020 shouldn’t be all that far off from Newton’s 2018 figures when targeting his back and tight end, either, as Brady completed 74.8 percent of his targets to White and Ben Watson in 2019. (This number is no 82.7 percent, I know, but it’s pretty astounding when you go back and rewatch some of last year’s showings.)
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg with Newton as a Patriot, really.
Newton would bring a skill-set that the Patriots have simply never had at quarterback under Belichick. His versatility as a dual-threat would open options that never existed with Brady, and his red-zone prowess as that kind of weapon could be exactly what this offense, which was frequently bottled up from in-tight last year, lacked.
Whether or not that’s actually the case will have to wait until later.
But in the now, the Patriots and Newton have done all you can ask in June, and that’s put themselves in a position to win.