With Cam Newton’s release in Carolina cemented on Tuesday morning, one can almost hear the distant sound of a covert Foxborough telephone being removed from its holster to make an exploratory phone call.
Obviously it’s not that simple. Newton has been adversely affected by the NFL’s decision to barrel ahead with free agency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams cannot get proper medical information on a quarterback whose last two seasons have ended because of shoulder surgery and a Lisfranc issue. The Panthers weren’t secretive in their attempts to acquire draft pick compensation for the former MVP, but managed to net more for journeyman backup Kyle Allen than they did for Newton (NFL Network reported that both the Bears and Chargers balked at the chance to make a deal).
It’s hard to imagine this is the end for Newton, even if he has endured a football lifetime of battery in his nine NFL seasons (concussions, ankle sprains, vertebrae fractures, rib fractures and rotator cuff tears). The great tragedy may be that the NFL finally developed ways to properly utilize him and keep him safer, but that his prime athletic years are in the rearview mirror.
But let’s imagine a world where that isn’t 100% true. And really, once Newton gets the green light from doctors, he will be a sought-after commodity, thus generating an instant return for whoever signs him. At best, maybe Newton has a bright second act once his injuries heal. Where might he land? Which teams should put in the due diligence? Let us take a look…
1. New England Patriots
It would be fascinating to see this offense with a mobility component at the quarterback position. Whenever Bill Belichick heaps praise on an opposing player during his mid-week, pre-game filibusters, it’s hard not to think there is an admiration there (along with a pretty good idea of how he might deploy that particular player’s talents). At the least, Belichick can continue to churn QB assets into valuable draft capital and deal Newton once he is healthy to a team that desperately needs a new starting quarterback.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The sample size on Gardner Minshew is troubling at best and the Jaguars just dealt Nick Foles to the Bears. Assuming they can work Newton into their salary cap structure, a process potentially made easier if they’re able to deal the franchise tagged Yannick Ngakoue, Newton could heal while Minshew gets a short runway to prove he’s the long-term answer at quarterback. Like New England, at the worst, the Jaguars then find themselves with a promising asset who could plug quite easily into another offense. The grand vision, Newton and Leonard Fournette thumping smaller, quicker defenses with some borrowed offensive concepts, is also exciting.
3. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ offense took a step back in 2019 and while that is not necessarily on the shoulders of Jared Goff, there have been mounting questions as to whether Goff is the quarterback who can ultimately maximize Sean McVay’s offense. I remember a chorus of raised eyebrows when the team signed Blake Bortles a year ago. Consider this upping the ante. Newton hasn’t spent much time around coordinators who could create something that fully realizes his size, speed and arm strength but I’ll bet McVay can. Think of this as a high-end backup plan.
4. Denver Broncos
This would be difficult in the sense that the Broncos are finally trying to push their momentum behind a starter (in this case, Drew Lock). Signing Newton would damage a lot of that progress and potentially scramble Lock’s confidence. Indeed, the pragmatic thing to do is put their efforts into understanding what makes Lock tick and continue to design their offense around him. That said, there is a desire to bulk up the power element of their offense. If I’m Vic Fangio, I am at least considering the fact that John Elway has a quick trigger finger when it comes to head coaches and that I would like to put myself in the best position to win should Lock struggle or get injured.
5. Miami Dolphins
I would love this as a high-upside budget signing for the Dolphins. At worst, it’s a wonderful use of their cap space and almost guarantees them a return on investment. At best, Newton is legitimate competition for Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or a mid-term bridge quarterback should they be eyeing a draft pick with injury concerns of his own that may need time to heal (Tua, anyone?) Signing Newton keeps him out of the hands of Belichick, where he could potentially wreak havoc on the division.
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