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NFL Draft

Should We Expect A Better Cam Newton In 2021?

  • The Draft Network
  • May 29, 2021
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There’s something utterly terrifying about a person working out to gospel music. When a person is quite literally tapping into a higher power and that person is former NFL MVP Cam Newton, it’s next level.

When Newton signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots in July 2020, after almost three months in free agency, all signs pointed to the dynamic, dual-threat quarterback returning to form (or close to it) under head coach Bill Belichick. But that progression never materialized.

Newton had some of the lowest numbers—including passing yards (2,657) and touchdowns (eight)—of any season he’s played 14 games or more, and, more dramatically, he didn’t look like himself. He was throwing the ball inconsistently, at best, with a rash of factors affecting his performance last season. Newton’s 2019 shoulder surgery forced him to change his throwing motion and a COVID-19 diagnosis, many speculated, likely affected his 2020 campaign. The Patriots finished with their first losing season (7-9) since 2000 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008. This didn’t deter the franchise, and, as we’ve now come to know over the past couple of weeks, the team’s faith in Newton has remained steady—at least until it’s time to hand the reins over to the young passer they recently drafted.

New England re-signed Newton to another one-year deal worth up to $13.6 million this offseason. The Patriots then proceeded to select Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft for another first during Belichick’s tenure; Belichick has never had to look for a passer in the first round of the draft and following the success of the Belichick-Tom Brady era in Foxboro was always going to be an uphill battle for a Black quarterback. Newton was never deterred, at least publicly; and despite the overall poor 2020 performance, there were moments of peak Newton. In Weeks 9-10, Newton arguably played his best football of the season. The Patriots were riding consecutive wins over the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, and Newton was efficient. It was efficiency bred from frustration.

“I’m getting tired of sucking. It’s simple,” Newton said at the time. He elaborated more, drawing a parallel to the competitor he is and the pride associated with that, which are likely still motivating Newton this offseason. Newton has been working with a throwing coach “to rebuild some of his fundamentals,” according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, and teammates—both new and old—have already noticed the electric impact of Newton.

“He just knows how to keep the game fun,” Kendrick Bourne recently said, via the Boston Globe; Bourne signed with the Patriots in March after four seasons in San Francisco. “He knows when to turn it on and he knows when to turn it off and stuff like that. It’s just awesome to be around a guy that kind of matches energy like me.

“Whenever I get down or something, he’s there to pick me up. He’s that kind of guy. And when I do good, he’s there too, to push me and motivate me at the same time. So he’s just all-around a great teammate.”

Newton’s leadership and personality are continuously praised by Belichick, and Belichick has said multiple times now that Newton is the team’s quarterback. This, however, hasn’t squashed all the talk about Jones getting playing time in his rookie season.

Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels adjusted to Newton’s skill set last season with more designed quarterback runs, and a large part of this adjustment was more than what Newton brings as a runner. New England’s passing game—Newton included—was less than ideal. The Patriots finished 2020 with the third-fewest average passing yards per game (180.6). This time New England adjusted in another way; the Patriots brought in a litany of solid pass-catching options for Newton—including Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Bourne—and despite still missing a WR1, they’ll be plenty of options for the veteran quarterback. 

The offseason work, again, points to Newton having a successful season under center in New England. The Patriots haven’t only invested in their long-term future but got playmakers in almost immediately to try and create a successful environment for Newton. He might not return to full form in 2021, but he also doesn’t have to in order for the Patriots to once again be contenders. Newton’s focus on fundamentals suggests he can be close to it, though.

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