Does the signing of Cam Newton really instantly elevate the New England Patriots to Super Bowl contenders the same season they lose Tom Brady?
Less than 48 hours after the news broke that former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was headed to New England to potentially replace Tom Brady, ESPN’s Football Power Index improved the Patriots’ current pre-season ranking from No. 9 to No. 8 — leapfrogging Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the process.
While that move itself could easily be debated, so too could the implication that Newton’s arrival immediately transforms the Patriots into a bonafide contender for Super Bowl LV.
Let’s do our best to try and analyze the both angles of this debate before coming to a conclusion of sorts — with the obvious caveat being that we’re still quite far from the start of the regular season, let alone the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
The argument supporting Newton making the Patriots a Super Bowl contender:
At his best, Cam Newton is a freak athlete unlike any we’ve ever seen in football before.
While he certainly wasn’t the first dual-threat QB to emerge on the national scene, he’s arguably the most complete.
His physical frame (6’5 and 245 lbs) dwarfs all other recent dual-threat quarterbacks by comparison. Consider that Lamar Jackson (6’2 and 212 lbs), Russell Wilson (5’11 and 215 lbs), Michael Vick (6’0 and 215 lbs), and Robert Griffin III (6’2 and 213 lbs) all are significantly shorter and lighter than Newton.
Even Newton’s closest rivals in height and weight among contemporary dual-threat QBs — Colin Kaepernick (6’4 and 230 lbs) and Josh Allen (6’5 and 237 lbs) — don’t quite stack up to his physical measurements.
It’s not just about height and weight though. Newton is beefier and more sturdily-built than any of the QBs in that first cross-section, and he’s probably stronger and more solid than the two names in the second grouping as well.
His arm length, arm strength, hand size, leg power … it’s all unrivaled and unparalleled at the quarterback position.
This is why he was such an exciting, unique prospect coming out of college — where he won the Heisman and the BCS National Championship in the same season as a senior (2010). The following year, he was selected No. 1 overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Newton won the NFL league MVP in 2015 and guided the Panthers to a championship berth, where they lost to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
He obviously knows how to win.
Newton now is paired with the greatest head coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick, as well as one of the game’s most innovative minds in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. You better believe McDaniels is licking his chops at what Newton’s arrival potentially opens up in his playbook.
One of the problems throughout Newton’s NFL career with the Panthers was staying upright behind a leaky offensive line; he shouldn’t have that same problem with the Patriots.
If they all stay healthy, the New England offensive line should be one of the best units in the league this fall. Even if the starters are forced to miss time, the Patriots have done an excellent job in recent years of adding depth behind them (Yodny Cajuste, Jermaine Eluemunor, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu, Dustin Woodard, Justin Herron, etc.).
The Patriots also have one of the best running back platoons in the league — if not the best outright. Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden are a better unit from top-to-bottom than any other starting fivesome of backs in the NFL — and that’s not even accounting for New England’s fullbacks, either (Jakob Johnson and Danny Vitale).
If the New England offense has a weakness, it’s at pass-catcher. Even still though, you could make a compelling argument that the Patriots wide receivers and tight ends are better collectively on paper than any of the groups Newton ever had with the Panthers.
Finally, the Pats have one of the best defenses in the league. Combine New England’s top-shelf D with the fact that they’re playing in what should once again be one of the NFL’s weakest divisions in the AFC East, and it’s easy to see why Newton could help pilot the Pats to glory this season.
The argument against Newton making the Patriots a Super Bowl contender:
Health, health, health, and health.
Shoulder and foot injuries have derailed his career the past couple seasons, and there’s really no guarantee that he’s fully-healed enough from any of these prior ailments to make a major impact in 2020 for the Patriots.
Obviously, you’d like to think that Belichick has done his due diligence at checking out Newton’s physical status before signing him, but we’re living in strange times.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has affected football in peculiar ways, and it’s unknown just how much interaction New England’s medical staff must have had with Newton prior to this deal being announced — if any interaction at all.
If Newton displays any lingering issues in his throwing motion or his ability to plant his foot while stepping into a pass, it could spell trouble for his ability to succeed in this offense and fend off Jarrett Stidham and/or Brian Hoyer for the starting QB gig in Week 1 of the regular season — never mind the Super Bowl.
In Bill We Trust.
Even amidst a raging pandemic, it’s fair to assume that Belichick and the Patriots found a way to test Newton’s health and current physical status before inking him.
Sure, his deal is team-friendly — apparently, it’s almost all composed of incentives. If Newton doesn’t reach those incentives, he’s only guaranteed something close to the veteran’s minimum. If he does reach the incentives, he gets about $7.5 million.
Either way, he’s a low-cost option at quarterback considering the mammoth potential he could offer this team if the gamble pays off.
Personally, I think a healthy Newton clearly trumps Stidham/Hoyer/anything else the Pats currently have at QB.
I also think a healthy Newton on this team — given its overall strengths on defense, at running back, and at coaching — should make the Patriots a real threat in the AFC and probably a lock to once again win their division.
Do I think his presence alone is enough to make them a Super Bowl contender though? Perhaps … with an emphasis on the word “contender.”
As talented and prolific as Newton can be when healthy, I’m not sure his arrival alone is enough to catapult the Pats over their most dangerous rivals in the conference: the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.
Still, the conference — and the league overall — should be put on notice. Assuming he’s healthy enough to play like vintage Cam, Newton does indeed elevate the Patriots into true-blue Super Bowl LV contenders once again.