On a hot summer Sunday night in the middle of a global pandemic, with the rest of the NFL on about as much of a hiatus as imaginable, Bill Belichick signed Cam Newton to a one-year, no risk, low money, incentive-rich deal.
Of course he did.
A few minutes after the news broke, the NFL announced it was punishing New England for illegally filming the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during a 2019 game, fining the organization $1.1 million, stripping it of a 2021 third-round draft pick and banning their in-house television crew from shooting games in 2020.
Of course it did.
Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay, no one has any idea exactly how the upcoming season is going to work and, here in the deep heat of late June, no one is thinking much about football.
So, naturally, it’s time for the NFL to settle an old score with the Pats but not before Belichick cuts it off by making one of the most intriguing free-agent moves of the offseason. All this on a Sunday night?
Never a dull moment with these guys, and that’s before Newton, a generational talent who was derailed of late by injuries, teams up with the coach with the best track record for reclamation projects. Together they’ll try to keep the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders.
For months Belichick played poker and pretended that he was willing to enter the 2020 season, the first without Brady, with a quarterbacks room consisting of inexperienced second-year passer Jarrett Stidham, journeyman (capable journeyman, but still) Brian Hoyer and nothing else.
The faith in BB among Patriot fans was enough that they all expected Stidham (he of the four career passing attempts) to turn into the next Brady – the unknown mid-round draft pick who blossoms into a champion. Who knows, he still might.
To do so, though, he’ll have to first compete for the job with a fellow Auburn product who is as known as Stidham is unknown. In 2015, Newton was named MVP after he led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl with a 17-1 record.
They lost the big game and nothing has quite been the same since. Cumulative beatings. Injuries. Struggles. It is why he found himself on the scrap heap this offseason, no one interested enough to take him.
Newton, who at his best was better than all of them, didn’t, instead dealing with dueling doubts about his health and his willingness to play as a backup.
Now comes Belichick. This was obvious, even if it was a long, slow process. By slow playing it, Belichick got his guy for virtually nothing.
Will this one work? Time will tell, but if there is something left in Newton, and at 31 years old, there could still be plenty left in him, Belichick is well positioned to bring it to light.
Five years ago Newton was a complete force of nature. He threw for 35 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more. He was virtually unstoppable, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound athlete who had developed into a dominant all-around quarterback. Even as recently as 2018, he was pretty good (24 touchdowns passing, four rushing). Yet after playing just two games in 2019 due to injury, he was swept out of Charlotte.
In Foxborough, Cam will find a creative environment looking to make it work for him. He is not Tom Brady. He has his own unique skills and personality. If it goes well, there is money to be made. If it doesn’t, Belichick will cut him the moment he no longer believes this is worthy of the effort.
It is similar to 2013, when Belichick brought in Tim Tebow on a similar incentive-laden deal only to dump him after the final preseason game.
It’s all on the table for Newton now. He can be a Week 1 starter for a team with what looks like a very good defense. To do so, he’ll have to return to his better form and seemingly embrace the Patriot Way of saying nothing and doing little in front of reporters.
Can Belichick and Newton coexist? Yeah, probably. Both want to win. It can bridge a lot of differences.
What Newton will have to learn though is what Brady long ago did, being the star of the Patriots means navigating a circus of silly things such as SpyGate 2.0, a weak and ridiculous sequel to the original, but an only-in-New-England-story you have come to expect.
The NFL says the Patriots broke the rules filming the Bengals, of all teams. Why? That remains a mystery. No one is going to miss the $1.1 million or the third-round pick, of course.
Plenty of fans will miss the news that the punishment was even assessed, the bigger news break beating out the lesser one.
Cam Newton to New England. It may be big. It may be nothing.
It won’t be dull. It never is, even on Sundays in June.
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