For the first time in 20 years, the New England Patriots are not a good football team. After 11 weeks of action, the team owns a pedestrian 4-6 record and sits behind the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the race for the AFC East. Because of this, some are wondering if first-year Patriot Cam Newton should be the long-term answer under center. While Newton might not be as good as peak Tom Brady, he’s the best option the team is likely to find and should remain in New England for at least the next few seasons.
Why the New England Patriots Should Commit to Cam Newton
The odds were stacked against Cam Newton heading into the season. Transitioning to a new team is never easy, and that transition was made all the harder with the COVID-shortened offseason. Combine this with the fact that New England had arguably the worst supporting cast in the league, and it was going to be hard for Newton to perform well right out of the gate.
However, despite the unfavorable circumstances, New England’s offense was actually pretty solid early in the season. Over the first three games, the Patriots ranked 11th in EPA/dropback, despite the underwhelming performances of N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman. The Patriots ranked dead last in EPA/dropback over the next three weeks, but it’s hard to blame that on Newton. The quarterback contracted COVID-19, forcing Brian Hoyer to start Week 4. Newton returned to the field in Week 6 but did so after missing two weeks of practice. He had a bad game, but struggling in that situation is understandable.
Since Week 8, New England’s passing attack has been among the best in the league. Paired with the emergence of Jakobi Meyers, Newton had quietly led the Patriots to the fifth-best passing attack in the league over this timeframe, by EPA/play.
This success is due almost entirely to Newton. Meyers is a nice player and Damiere Byrd is a solid depth receiver, but these guys aren’t capable of carrying a bad quarterback. Newton has played some great football of late and should only improve as he gets more comfortable in this offense. Pro Football Focus agrees that he’s elevated his game, as Newton is the QB4 in their grading over the past month. For the season, he’s the QB13.
Cam Newton since getting benched vs 49ers:
🔹 85.5 Passing Grade – 4th among QBs
🔹4 Rushing TDs – 2nd among all players pic.twitter.com/bMrBqv3mnp
— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) November 23, 2020
Building For the Future
Cam Newton is a good quarterback, and he isn’t the reason this team is all-but out of the playoff race. However, he’s not an elite quarterback. Quarterback is the most important position and, unless you have an elite one, you should never stop your search to upgrade the position. However, the Patriots don’t have a realistic path to an elite prospect.
If it started today, the Patriots would hold the 13th pick in the NFL Draft. Barring something completely unforeseen, it’s hard to imagine any world where the Patriots come away with either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. The draft process is far from an exact science, but these are the only two prospects that stand a realistic shot of turning into elite quarterbacks.
The Patriots have a lot of needs heading into 2021, and they should use their first-round pick to trade back and grab a pass-catcher and somebody on defense. However, this doesn’t mean they should completely ignore the quarterback position.
As previously mentioned, the NFL Draft is a crapshoot, and guys like Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady can fall through the cracks. The best plan of action is building around Newton in the short-term and using one of their Day 2 picks on a quarterback. In a best-case scenario, the Patriots get lucky and find their answer under center for the next 20 years. In a more realistic scenario, the Patriots improve their quarterback depth and get a better backup.
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