There is a fine line between prudence and stupidity. There is something to be said for being patient with trade and free-agent options this time of year in the NFL, but it’s another thing to be silly.
The wait for Cam Newton’s next team has gone on long enough. The inevitable waiting game between the Panthers and the rest of the league played out as all involved fully expected. The market ignored Newton, knowing the Panthers would release him within a week of coming to terms with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and now the recent league MVP is sitting on the open market.
Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty with the 30-year-old given his injury-plagued past two seasons. Yes, I can understand a little trepidation about Newton’s foot, which ended his 2019 season after two games, following a shoulder injury shutting him down in 2018. But that is why all contracts are not binding until the team can conduct a physical. And that’s more than enough protection, given the opportunity to perhaps buy exceedingly low on one of the greatest talents to ever play the position.
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Perhaps Newton has lost a half step. Maybe the accumulation of all of those years of playing his position like a linebacker have caught up to him. But if ever there was a buyer’s market, this is it, with the entire league taking a pass on the chance to trade a late-round pick for a highly production former top overall pick on a one-year, $19M flyer of a contract.
Which tells us a few things about what is to come next.
In this depressed and overcrowded QB market, Newton is very likely looking at a prove-it contract below that $19M figure. I’m guessing maybe around $15M with the chance to earn four or five more in playing time and productivity incentives. If someone was valuing him at more, then they would have traded for him.
An enterprising team with a need to upgrade at quarterback may be able to get Newton to agree to a two or three year deal that automatically voids should he manage to hit certain high thresholds. Or, should Newton achieve certain standards in 2020, then an additional year of the deal is triggered at, say, $35M or something like that. Regardless, there are more than a few creative ways that a club could attach itself to this asset, knowing that if Newton does play well in 2020, and then leaves as a free agent in 2021, then a high 2022 comp pick is coming. A team could sign Cam and still draft a QB high in the first round. They are not going to be mutually exclusive.
Lest we forget, according to football analyst Warren Sharp, Newton did accomplish the following in his seven healthy seasons in the NFL (up to 2019, when his injury luck changed). He was the only quarterback in the league to throw at least 150 TD passes and run for at least 40 TDs. He was the only quarterback to rush for 300 yards or more in all seven of those seasons. He was one of just five QBs to throw 17 or fewer picks in all seven of those seasons, and one of just six to start at least 14 games in all of them.
He is not a turnover machine like Jameis Winston. He is very much a touchdown maker. He is a willful, determined football player who has a unique build and skillset — the arm to throw the ball anywhere and the legs to churn through defenses or sprint past them. And he will be as motivated as anyone in the NFL, since he is suddenly on the scrap heap after becoming the face of the Panthers and one of the faces of the NFL.
Can he be a little quirky? Sure. Does he perturb opponents on occasion with his flexing. I guess. But who cares? We are not talking about a $125M commitment here. And after Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and Marcus Mariota all got less than any anticipated (hell, every starting QB who has moved to this point has except for Ryan Tannehill), there has never been a time like this to catch Newton’s fall.
This guy has been a winner all of his life. The biggest concern was his shoulder, which was healed enough for him to start 2019 on time. And his foot will have had nearly a full calendar year to heal by the time Week 1 rolls around (and even longer if the start of the season is delayed).
Oh, you say he might not be ready for the start of OTAs? Might need a little extra time? Guess what, there isn’t a team in the NFL that believes there will be OTAs and maybe not even a single minicamp before training camps begin. There isn’t going to be an offseason program with guys hanging around team facilities for two months. Everyone is going to have to learn remotely, and Newton’s attributes and strengths are well established enough for a smart coordinator to build an offense around him.
So, yeah, he makes sense for several teams.
The Patriots aren’t doing anything knee-jerk in response to Brady moving on. They are going to be methodical and would prefer not to have a model where an abundance of cap space is tied up in the quarterback. Cap space is a bit of an issue … but Newton would be the most superior bridge quarterback ever on a one-year deal as they sort of the readiness of the QB they took last year, and perhaps the one they will draft this year. And with the specter of no offseason work at all, I’d vastly prefer to have a veteran QB for 2020. Coordinator Josh McDaniels once selected Tim Tebow in the first round and went to the playoffs with him; he could do wonders with Cam.
The Chargers keep telling everyone they are perfectly content to open their new glistening stadium with Tyrod Taylor and draft a QB in the first round. Great. Do exactly that, but with Newton instead. The Raiders have made it clear they are open to an upgrade over David Carr – Newton would qualify and even his cap hit with Carr would be less than what some teams have carried for a single starting QB.
Sure, Tua looks like a natural for the Dolphins. But he is coming off a major hip injury. They could put Newton in the role Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently in and maybe mess around and compete in the AFC East. If I am Newton, there is no way in hell I am signing with the Jaguars, or even considering it, knowing I need a big year with some talent around me to try to get a massive new deal down the road. But the Jags should absolutely kick the tires.
Even the Bengals, locked in on Joe Burrow with the first overall pick, have always made a lot of season. I wrote a column at the combine about what a load they could get for the first overall pick, they have an offense built to compete right now, there will be great QBs in the 2021 draft as well, and they could flip Newton for something big before that draft as well if he bounces back as I expect. It’s far too outside-the-box for the uber conservative franchise, but the prospect still deeply interests me.
Regardless, there are more than enough teams that could use him right now to win games. If he fails the physical, whenever he is able to take it, then he fails the physical and you walk away. The reward far outweighs the risk at this point. It’s time to make a move.