The Patriots finally made a significant addition to their quarterback room by signing former NFL MVP Cam Newton to a one-year incentive-laden deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Bill Belichick took a laid back approach to Tom Brady’s departure, passing on a robust free-agent class at quarterback until the price on Newton came down to a workable figure.
Last season, the 31-year-old former Panthers star only attempted 89 passes in two starts after a Lisfranc injury to his left foot ended his season in a form that was not reflective of his talents.
In 2018, Newton played through a nagging shoulder injury until Carolina shut him down with two weeks remaining in the regular season, and the list of injuries continues from there.
Newton’s body began breaking down on him in 2017, and in two games last season, he struggled, finishing with a 48.5 grade from Pro Football Focus and a 21.1 QBR (both out of 100).
Routine sideline throws became iffy for Newton while his ability to make big-time throws down the field, which was his calling card in his prime, dwindled after multiple shoulder surgeries.
At one point, Newton made efforts to change his throwing motion to lessen the stress on his shoulder that led to better mechanics but didn’t seem to solve the pain issue.
The 2015 NFL MVP might not be at the peak of his powers, but he was a middle of the road starter in 2018 and the Patriots are hoping he’s healthy enough to push Stidham.
During the 2018 season, Newton was in the 20-25 range among starting quarterbacks depending on the metric. In QBR, Newton was 22nd, while PFF had him 24th that year.
Newton was still a top athlete at the position ranking seventh in rushing DYAR among quarterbacks and graded out favorably in Next Gen’s completion percentage over expectation metric as well.
According to CPOE, Newton completed more passes than expected during the 2018 season with a 2.5 percent increase from expectation (65.4) to actual completion percentage (67.9).
Although he is at his best when the offensive system encourages him to use his running abilities as an advantage, Newton wasn’t out there running only RPOs and zone-read plays every week.
An initial examination of some of his positive plays from the 2018 season will show instances where Newton was under center and operating Patriot-like schemes off of play-action.
Here, Carolina runs a New England staple, leading the fullback through the hole to mimic a lead ISO run while tight end Greg Olsen crosses behind the linebackers for a completion.
But there’s no doubt that the Patriots will need to change their offensive philosophy if they do tab Newton as the starter to get the best out of a dual-threat QB with unique physical gifts.
First, an ideal Newton system would put him in the shotgun or pistol with playmakers around him to supplement the threat of a quarterback run and certainly incorporate option plays.
One of the best ways to force the defense to play 11-on-11 is by using empty formations with five eligible receivers and a running quarterback serving essentially as a sixth threat to carry the football.
Here, the Panthers are in a second and very long situation so they disguise a quick-game look out of empty to get a chunk of the yardage back. At the bottom of the screen, Newton works a comeback route to wide receiver Devin Funchess. The Cowboys defense backs off into a cover-three structure with three players deep and linebacker Sean Lee responsible for the running back in the flat (McCaffrey). Newton sees the corner giving up the 12-yard comeback due to the down and distance and rifles a pass with Lee closing on the throwing window for a completion.
Once upon a time, Newton had one of the strongest arms in the league. If his arm strength on the pass above still exists, Newton has a chance to start in New England.
Along with throwing darts to the intermediate level, Newton’s ability to hit impossible passing windows was once one of his most effective skills.
During his 2015 MVP campaign, Newton ranked third with a passer rating of 107.4 on throws over 20 yards in the air. But that is one area of his game that has significantly suffered of late.
Still, there are sometimes glimpses of those “big-time” throws in some of his recent games. On the play above, the Panthers run a switch concept of a bunch set to Newton’s right. In a switch concept, one receiver in the bunch will often break across the field on an over route to sneak a receiver behind the defense. In this instance, the weak side hook defender (linebacker to Newton’s left) makes a terrific play in coverage to fall underneath the crosser. But Newton makes a great touch pass over the defender to still complete the pass to D.J. Moore.
Then, there’s the option to put Newton in either an RPO or zone-read concept that utilizes his running abilities, something we theorized last week the Patriots might incorporate with Stidham.
On this play, the Panthers run the RPO slant concept that we discussed at length in our RPO breakdown. This time, Newton is reading the linebacker at the end of the line to his right. If the linebacker steps up to play the run, as he does here, Newton keeps the ball and throws the three-step slant on the backside.
From there, you can add in zone-read plays or options off of RPOs that incorporate Newton as a running threat. Even in his current state, Newton is still one of the best running QBs in the NFL.
Here, Newton gets a clear keep read from the defensive end (no. 94) when he crashes down to take out the running back. After that, you can see Newton still can make defenders miss in space and is a tank to bring down at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds.
Among 64 ball carriers in 2018, Newton 4.65 yards after contact per rush led the NFL and his passing efficiency was still at a respectable range for an NFL starting quarterback.
The Patriots remained steadfast on providing second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham with everything that he needs to succeed as the successor to Tom Brady for most of the offseason.
In a cap-strapped year, the Patriots waited until the price came down to sign one of the several big-name free-agent quarterbacks available this offseason to compete with Stidham.
Newton provides a legitimate threat to the 2019 fourth-round pick as someone that will look to resurrect his career under the guidance of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.