We won’t know for six months the ultimate effect of the Patriots signing former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
But we already know the impact on public perception of New England’s chances to win the AFC East this coming season.
With the Pats having lost Hall-of-Fame-bound QB Tom Brady, who won six of his nine Super Bowl appearances and three National Football League MVP Awards, coach Bill Belichick’s crew seemed in trouble. Worse, other personnel losses on both sides of the ball seemed to make the Patriots substantially weaker than the team that won 12 games in 2019.
Second-year pro Jarrett Stidham, who has thrown four NFL passes in three brief appearances, became the heir apparent to Brady, now with Tampa Bay, and career journeyman Brian Hoyer the only competition for starter.
Suddenly, Buffalo became the favorite in a division New England had won 16 of the past 17 seasons including the last 11 in a row.
The Bills were listed at 13/10 odds to end that streak this coming season with the Pats tabbed for second at 17/10. But with the signing of Newton, as of Monday, both Buffalo and New England are viewed as a toss-up to claim the AFC East, at 13/10.
THE CHANGE speaks to the Belichick mystique.
At age 31, injuries to his knee, shoulder and foot have left a major question whether Newton can come close to being the player he was in 2015 when he won the league MVP and led Carolina to a 15-1 regular-season record and a berth in the Super Bowl.
Still, he has elite size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and strength and, before being waylaid by physical problems, possessed extraordinary skills on the run.
But after missing only six starts in his first eight seasons, Newton played a mere two games in 2019 due to an injured ligament in his left foot that necessitated off-season surgery. And that’s likely the reason Newton remained unemployed for three months after being released by the Panthers in March after a coaching change.
His collegiate career was checkered, at best. Newton transferred after two years at the University of Florida following his arrest for stealing a computer while also being charged with academic dishonesty. He then played a season at Blinn Junior College in Texas before transferring to Auburn. While there, Mississippi State alums charged that Newton’s father demanded a six-figure payment for his son to transfer to the Tigers’ SEC rival.
Newton was found innocent in his dad’s scheme, led Auburn to the national championship, won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
But since taking Carolina to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, a loss to the Broncos where he was chastised for not trying to jump on a fumble late in the game, Newton got the Panthers to the playoffs only once in three years, excluding last year.
Still, his siren song is the talent he showed as recently as 2018 and though Newton is known as a “me guy,” Belichick has a reputation for being able to handle those similarly afflicted ie. Randy Moss and Corey Dillon.
But a potential issue still looms.
Newton has long struggled with passing accuracy. In his prime, the escapability he showed created uncertainty in opposing secondaries leaving his receivers more open than they should have been, mitigating that shortcoming. With the Pats, other than veteran wideout Julian Edelman and running back James White, the receiving corps is substandard, which directly translated to Brady’s “off year” in 2019. And with Newton no longer the threat he was on the run, his lack of accuracy will be front-and-center considering he won’t have receivers who can bail him out and, at tight end, there’s no Gronk, but rather a nameless crew of three which combined for 19 catches last season.
Still, it’s hard to conjure a scenario where Stidham would be the better option as starting QB than Newton, especially with Belichick as coach.
And, if you doubt it, check out the latest betting odds on the AFC East standings.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)