Four Things Cam Newton Starting Means for New England Patriots

Cam Newton Signing
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The New England Patriots are officially eliminated from the playoffs, yet Cam Newton remains the starting quarterback. While some speculated that Bill Belichick could turn the keys over to Jarrett Stidham for the remainder of the season, that apparently won’t be the case. Barring a last-second change, Newton will be under center on Sunday, and this move has some long-standing ramifications for the New England Patriots.

What Cam Newton Starting Means for New England Patriots

1. Jarrett Stidham Isn’t It

After the New England Patriots lost Tom Brady in free agency and didn’t address the quarterback position in the NFL Draft, most assumed that Jarrett Stidham would be the heir apparent to Brady’s throne. The former fourth-round pick played well in the 2019 preseason, but only had four NFL passes to his name. Nobody knew what to expect, although the apparent organizational confidence in the rookie made some believe that he could succeed as a starting quarterback.

However, everything that has happened since the 2020 NFL Draft heavily suggests that Stidham doesn’t have the making of a franchise quarterback. Newton immediately beat him out upon signing, which wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising, however, was Brian Hoyer beating Stidham for the backup job.

While Stidham eventually earned the backup spot over Hoyer, he’s been pretty terrible when on the field. We’re obviously dealing with a small sample here, but if he had enough snaps to qualify, Stidham would rank dead last in PFF grade, EPA/play, passer rating, and QBR. All signs point towards him being a bad quarterback, and the decision to not start him is just the final nail in the coffin.

2. Cam Newton Will Be Back

Even if you’re 99.99% sure that Jarrett Stidham is not the long-term answer under center, he’d still be worth a shot if Cam Newton wasn’t in the long-term plans. Newton is on a one-year deal, and his recent level of play hasn’t inspired too much confidence. Since Week 12, Newton is at or near the bottom of just about every meaningful statistic.

While he probably won’t ever approach his former MVP glory again, it’s worth noting that Newton has had some high moments throughout the year. As is the case with most of his seasons, Newton has been a highly-volatile quarterback that averages out to a top-20 or so passer. There is some value in someone like that, even if it’s only as a bridge quarterback.

If Belichick blames most of Newton’s struggles on the terrible supporting cast, then perhaps he could bring him back on another cheap deal. New England has tons of cap space and could easily upgrade the weapons to give Newton a fighting chance in 2021.

3. No Better Veterans in 2021

Sticking with Newton clearly means that Bill Belichick isn’t interested in any of the potential veteran options in 2021. Right now, the biggest quarterbacks set to hit the market are Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Andy Dalton.

Prescott is clearly better than Newton, but it’s hard to imagine a world where the Cowboys actually let him hit the open market. Winston could be an upgrade, but New England’s front office chose Newton over Winston last year, and nothing has happened to change that evaluation. Rivers and Fitzpatrick have both played well this season, but both are in their late 30’s and close to falling off of that dreaded cliff. Dalton, meanwhile, has played worse than Newton in a more favorable situation.

With no intriguing free agents, the Patriots could decide to look for a trade partner. Right now, the most likely trade candidates are Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold, and Matthew Stafford. I’ve already described why Wentz and Darnold are terrible options, and Garoppolo is nothing more than a lateral move. Stafford is better than Newton, but the Patriots would have to give up a lot to get a 32-year old franchise quarterback, and the Lions might not want to sell at any price.

4. The NFL Draft Holds the Future

Cam Newton is probably the best option the Patriots can get in 2021, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be under center for the next decade. The 2020 NFL Draft is considered to be a good one for quarterbacks, and the Patriots should be in position to grab one with one of their first two picks.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Patriots have no realistic way of getting Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson. These three will probably be the first three quarterbacks off the board and gone within the first five picks. New England will probably end up somewhere near the 15th overall pick, so they’d need to move heaven and earth to select any of them.

This still leaves the Patriots with three intriguing prospects in Trey Lance, Kyle Trask, and Mac Jones. Lance is essentially a poor mans’ version of young Cam Newton, as the 6’-4”, 227-pound quarterback is a fantastic battering ram with a rocket arm and accuracy concerns. Trask isn’t the best athlete and doesn’t have the largest sample, but he’s a good downfield thrower that has played well with an underwhelming supporting cast. Jones, meanwhile, is lethally precise in the short portion of the field but doesn’t have the cannon to consistently stretch the defense.

All of these players have the potential to be a franchise quarterback, but all would benefit from a year on the bench. The best plan of action for the 2021 Patriots is to have Cam Newton starting until one of the other aforementioned quarterbacks is ready to take over.

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