Amid an odd NFL offseason where Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Roger Goodell announced draft picks slumped over in a chair in his basement, one storyline remains unsolved: the continued unemployment of Cam Newton.
Despite also-ran quarterbacks such as Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota and Chase Daniel signing multi-year deals, the former MVP and three-time Pro Bowler a unsigned as the calendar approaches June. Newton is coming off a series of injuries and recently underwent surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot, but it’s still strange that no team has taken a flier on the superstar quarterback yet.
It’s fair to assume Newton will eventually sign somewhere, even as the coronavirus pandemic makes it tougher for teams to perform their own physicals. But which team would be the best fit? We examined some of his potential destinations.
New England Patriots
The current odds-on favorite for Newton’s services, according to DraftKings, is New England. It’s borderline suspicious that the Patriots have completely sat out the quarterback market thus far. Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer are the only two QBs on the roster, the former a fourth-round selection in 2019, the latter a career backup in the twilight of his career.
The Patriots insist they’re committed to Stidham as their starter, and the continued inaction at QB confirms that position more and more every day. But doesn’t it still feel like they’ll eventually do something?
It’s possible that Bill Belichick does think Stidham is the guy, or at least wants to give him a shot. It’s also possible that he doesn’t care too much about winning in 2020 and wants to wait until the 2021 NFL Draft to take a stab at the position. And considering Tom Brady’s dramatic exit, it wouldn’t be out of character for him to use this season as a chance to prove he can win without a quarterback entirely. Either way, none of these scenarios leave a ton of room for Newton.
With Ron Rivera now in Washington, rumors of Newton following his old coach were inevitable. Rivera is apparently not ruling out a reunion, and Washington’s current QB situation is suspect at best. Keenum is in Cleveland, Alex Smith is still recovering from a devastating leg injury and recent arrival (and former Newton backup) Kyle Allen isn’t expected to win the starting gig. That leaves first-round pick Dwayne Haskins as the starter. His rookie year was less than inspiring (7 TDs, 7 INTs, 76.1 rating and 151.7 yards per game).
That said, he got about as raw of a deal as one can get, playing with an interim coach, exactly one offensive weapon (Terry McLaurin) and an offensive line that ignored him. Rivera solves the first problem, but Washington didn’t upgrade the line or receiver group at all. It’s hard to imagine Newton being that interested, and the team should probably just see what they have in Haskins since they likely won’t compete for the playoffs.
Another team that appears committed to an unknown entity at QB is the Broncos. Drew Lock won four of his first five starts with Denver, while flashing a big arm and some playmaking ability. John Elway stacked the offense around him, drafting receivers in the first two rounds (Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler) while also signing Melvin Gordon. But with a roster designed to win now, how confident should they be that Lock is the guy?
His stats during that five-game run (204 yards per game, 89.7 passer rating) were fine, but four of the five teams he played were bottom-third in defensive DVOA, and the numbers look suspect when you remove a 300-yard, 3-TD performance against Houston. He was a rookie and could certainly improve, but history shows there’s a chance he doesn’t, and Denver’s win-now strategy hinges on it happening.
Unless, that is, they bring in a Plan B. Newton is certainly John Elway’s type (that is, he is tall). The team has made too many investments on both sides of the ball to be undermined by subpar quarterback play, and Newton is a high-caliber insurance policy. The risk here would be undermining Lock: a player of Newton’s caliber might zap his confidence and throw chaos into a united front. But you know what else a locker room hates? A talented roster squandered by subpar QB play. Something the next team on this list would know all about.
Gardner Minshew appears to be entrenched as the starter in Jacksonville, but that might not necessarily be by design. When the Cincinnati Bengals released Andy Dalton, the team was “absolutely interested” before he signed with the Dallas Cowboys, according to reports.
Minshew is, in some ways, a cautionary tale for Drew Lock. He flashed in his first few starts, but came back down to Earth once teams got a good look at him. He’s a fun story and has a tremendous moustache, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a sixth-round pick. Newton would be an upgrade to this QB room in both the short and long term.
It’s probably within Jacksonville’s best interest to not win many games in 2020. The roster is terrible, and they figure to be among the leading contenders in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Signing Newton would be antithetical to that mindset. But it’s never a guarantee to land the top pick – nor for that top pick to pan out in the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger will be back in 2020, even though his legendary injury beard apparently won’t be. If Newton wound up in Pittsburgh, he wouldn’t be the starter. It’s really the only team on this list where that is unquestionably true – and yet it might just be his best fit.
Considering his injury history and unknown medicals, Newton is in a similar stage of his career as Teddy Bridgewater was last year, when he took a one-year deal to back up Drew Brees in New Orleans. It worked out well: Brees missed five games, and Bridgewater won all of them, helping the Saints win the NFC South. This offseason, Bridgewater cashed in with a three-year, $60 million deal with the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers have a loaded roster: the third-ranked defense in DVOA, a top-three offensive line and a solid group of young receivers. But their season fell apart last year when Roethlisberger got injured, and they can’t afford to go into another season with Mason Rudolph as their backup. Big Ben is 38 years old. Pittsburgh needs a good backup – and maybe a succession plan in case Roethlisberger hangs up his cleats after the season. By signing with Pittsburgh, Newton instantly becomes the former – and can audition to be the latter. Everybody wins.