Cam Newton has no more excuses left in his arsenal. With all the new shiny toys on the offense, he has everything prove and even more to lose this season. The leash he had last year will almost certainly be much shorter. If he doesn’t ball out this year, not only will his Patriots tenure be done, but his NFL career will be on life support as well. And that’s if there’s even one left to salvage.
That may come off as a bit harsh, but it’s the unavoidable truth. People forget Newton was available for 3 months before the Pats signed him. He was forced to watch less talented QB’s get taken off the board before he even got a look. Regardless of what you think the reasoning was, it was clear teams didn’t want him. Or, at the very least, didn’t think he was worth the risk. But eventually Belichick came calling and signed him to an incentive laden, one-year deal. Cam then proceeded to prove the haters right and had a horrendous season. But I’ll admit, it was tough to put it all on the former MVP.
Not only did Cam have to deal with navigating through the league’s COVID protocols, he contracted the disease himself. Those two things led to a significant lack of practice time for Newton with his new teammates. And in an offense like the Patriots, which is known for it’s complexity, practice reps are key. So when the 31-year old repeatedly came up short on the field, fans were apt to cut him some slack. The organization clearly felt the same way as Belichick was almost defiant in his insistence on keeping the QB in game’s he had no business being in. Call it confidence in Cam or lack thereof in backup Jarrett Stidham, Newton had a death grip on that starting role.
But even when Cam came back from COVID, he still couldn’t produce a good stat line. But again, it’s tough to lay all the blame at Newtons doorstep. I don’t like to use the “lack of weapons” excuse for a quarterbacks poor performance, but it’s tough not to here. Newton was dealt a rough hand when it came to offensive options. Instead of playing with a full house, he was saddled with a pair of 4’s at best.
-N’Keal Harry was, for lack of a better term, useless.
-His tight end room was as non-existent as any position could be.
-Julian Edleman had a season/career ending injury which thrusted undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers into the #1 receiver role.
The offense turned to a disaster as the season progressed and no QB on the roster could save it. But even with all the hurdles he had to jump, Cam stumbled on his own as well. Mental blunders were commonplace and he became a hindrance to the teams success far too often. Sure, Newton repeatedly acknowledged his shortcomings and rightfully shouldered the blame, but that only goes so far. When you continuously say you know what’s wrong and you have yet to “play your best”, at what point does that fall on deaf ears when nothing really changes?
But last year is in the rearview and Cam Newton has a fully stocked cupboard to cook with now. Belichick took his black card, went to the grocery store and bought an entirely new team.
Instead of a couple rookie tight ends, Newton will be throwing to Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Experts assumed the Patriots would be in on one of them, but Belichick messed around and snagged both. While Damiere Byrd jumped ship to Chicago, Belichick replaced him with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Partner them up with an emerging Jakobi Meyers and that’s a solid receiving corps to go along with those two new tight ends. Not to mention Cam will also be playing behind what’s expected to be one of the best offensive lines in football. Again, no excuses.
Even if Cam never gets a full grasp of his offensive reads, he’ll have a great running game to lean on. Sony Michel gets entirely too much hate by local media, but he is more than talented enough to helm the backfield. Luckily he’ll have emerging star Damien Harris to split snaps with if his nagging injuries creep up again or if his play declines. And James White is…well…James White. The best receiving back in the league is still in a Patriots uniform.
This isn’t your 2020 Patriots and Cam Newton should reap the benefits of that. And on top of EVERYTHING, the defense should take another step forward with their new additions and talented young guys. Newton isn’t going to have to do it all this season and all signs point to him flourishing because of that. Excuses simply aren’t acceptable in New England this year. Cam knows the hatred and criticisms are there, so he should want to prove them wrong at every turn.
Listen, as a Patriots fan, I want Cam Newton to succeed and I believe he will. It’s fun being optimistic, especially with the wholesale changes Belichick has made with this team. But the nightmare that was the 2020 season still haunts fans dreams so it’s tough to be all in. Luckily, if Superman can’t lead the Justice League anymore, Superboy is waiting in the wings ready to go. Mac Jones has garnered rave reviews from his coaches, teammates and even media members while saying the right things every step of the way.
So it’s pretty simple: Cam Newton has ample assets available to lead him to the river of success. But if he stumbles along the way, he’ll have no one to blame but himself. And he’ll be forced to watch the Mac Jones Era begin as the Cam Newton Era unceremoniously gets shoved to the side.
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-Mike Sullivan (@msully5433)
(Featured photo credit: thespun.com)