The most pathetic part, frankly, is that Bill Belichick seemingly had no other choice. The preacher of versatility and flexibility is backed into a corner with absolutely no leverage at all, which has led him to do the most desperate of things with NFL free agency about to begin.
He has brought back Cam Newton.
There is obviously a lot to process here, particularly with the start of the NFL season still six months away, with so many tumblers still to fall in place. But that is hardly the point. Belichick has been praised for being ahead of everything during his time in New England, for being the Wayne Gretzky of decision makers, for focusing on where the puck is going instead of on where it is.
But this time? This time, to borrow a phrase, Belichick is the one playing checkers while everyone else is playing chess, reacting to the beats of a market on which he has no control.
So, as the news broke from the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride this morning that Newton was returning to the Patriots, the real story was obvious.
Seriously? This is the best Belichick could do, right now, today? This is how the Patriots intend to lure free agents, with a has-been who was the worst quarterback in the NFL last year? Wow. Talk about pathetic.
Next thing you know, the Patriots will be trying to sell us Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz IV. Or the rematch between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Hey, can Steve Grogan still play?
According to reports, Newton can earn as much as $14 million in 2021, but again, the money – like everything else in this news – is nothing but prestidigitation. The Patriots are trying to sell illusions now, not actual results. Most of that money is not, cannot, be guaranteed. Everyone knows it. If the rest of the NFL thought Newton had anything left, he wouldn’t have accepted this putrid deal from the Patriots, especially after recently telling the world that he regarded himself as an NFL starter. Like the Pats, Newton had no market, nowhere else to turn. So Belichick and Newton, two desperate men, turned to each other.
Could the Patriots get another quarterback between now and the start of training camp, even the start of the season? Of course … let’s hope so … they had downright better. Newton stunk last year. He might be marginally better in 2021, but he still won’t be good enough. And we all know it. And whether Belichick builds another defense or not, 20 years of Tom Brady has a way of changing the standards for people because we all know what it takes to win now.
Back then, we didn’t. But Boston is a different place now, the kind of place where we know a winner when we see one. Which means we also know a loser.
In the end, here’s the ultimate truth: you’re not stupid. You’re certainly not naïve. For more than 20 years, Belichick and the Patriots gave you – and prospective Patriots players – arguably the best product in the history of sports, the best dynasty, certainly the best quarterback. He gave you and them the best chance to win.
Now Belichick and the Patriots are trying to sell you and the rest of the NFL … well … what, exactly? The reputation of Cam Newton? The memories of the past? The hype and the fluff of six Super Bowl titles won with another man at quarterback – and a man who has now also won in, all of place, Tampa Bay, where has, too, has now agreed to a contract extension?
You, like Newton, look sad and desperate right now. You look like you have no other move to make. You look like you’re trying to sell us the past instead of the future, and you used to snub us when we talked about the past.
Remember when you said that you were “on to Cincinnati?”
Well guess what?
We’re on to 2021.
And right now, you’re not even in the game.
MORE: 11 Weapons For The Patriots In Free Agency
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.