Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Newton’s link to Moss: It’s hard to find a better Patriots-specific comparison for the signing of quarterback Cam Newton than when the team acquired receiver Randy Moss in 2007. Both were superstar players with a flair and aura to them, and on the surface, they might not have seemed like natural fits in the team’s program and system.
Moss bought in fully and turned in a record-breaking season in his first year in New England, motivated to get his career back on track. Newton looks to follow the same script.
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There are notable financial comparisons as well.
To facilitate a trade from Oakland to New England, Moss agreed to a new contract that reduced his pay from $9.25 million to $3 million. At the time, he said, “I’m just very, very happy to find some happiness and [be] getting back to what I love to do — that’s play football and going out there and [competing]. Over the course of my career, I’ve made a lot of money. By me coming to an organization such as the New England Patriots, why would money be a factor?”
Now consider what Newton recently said, both publicly and privately to Patriots officials, after agreeing to take the same approach in accepting an extremely modest one-year contract: “This isn’t about money for me — it’s about respect.”
That is what Newton was selling in conversations with the Patriots: the idea that what he wanted was a real opportunity to play, and he didn’t expect anything to be handed to him. Like Moss, Newton has plenty of money in the bank, having earned more than $100 million in his first 10 NFL seasons, and his acceptance of the contract put considerable weight behind his words.
In 2007, Moss was so motivated and energized by the change that he set an NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions in an electrifying season. He said this week on ESPN’s Get Up! program that Bill Belichick’s football-first culture and knack for keeping all players on the same level were things he enjoyed. Moss signed a three-year, $27 million extension with the Patriots the following year.
Will history repeat itself with Newton? The similarities, to this point, are striking.
2. Newhouse’s inside view on Cam/Patriots: Veteran offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse was with the Panthers in 2018 when Newton played some of his best football before injuring his throwing shoulder, and Newhouse learned the ins and outs of the Patriots’ culture as a free-agent signee in 2019. How does he view the marriage between Newton’s flamboyance and the Patriots’ all-business approach?
“Some people who are just uncomfortable with a guy as strong in personality as Cam might see that as something that could cause friction, but people who are secure and understand what it takes to play in the NFL — both Bill Belichick and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels as a staff and Cam Newton as a guy who has matured and competed and grown so much over the years — to those guys, none of this matters,” Newhouse said last week on Sirius XM NFL’s “Late Hits” program.
“When I was in Carolina, I was new, getting traded in the middle of the season, and my mornings started early, cramming the playbook. Lo and behold, Cam was there, hours before me, walking on the treadmill, studying his playbook. Same in the afternoon, with Luke Kuechly, studying, getting extra film work. So the work part is not a question. You can call it flamboyance, but he’s just got a strong personality. He’s a leader.
“But when has Bill Belichick ever shied away from that? We just assume they don’t mesh with that kind of thing, but in reality, there are strong personalities all over the locker room. Everybody just knows their role. I think Cam will get there, and they’ll kind of help him define what his role is, and he’ll adapt to that. Them not being able to get along is just a fallacy, in my opinion.”
Newhouse described the Belichick-led Patriots as “opportunistic at every moment” while always thinking of the “short term and long term.” Like others, he’s interested to see how a motivated Newton pairs with the Patriots’ creative and execution-oriented approach.
“Not sure what that will look like yet. I guarantee you don’t know, and we don’t know. That’s Bill’s M.O. He does what he feels is best at every moment in time,” Newhouse said on the program with hosts Lance Medow and Charles Davis.
“[Try to find] a way to make the Cam Newton thing work, but I wouldn’t shoo him in just yet, even though he’s got the ability. It’s all about health for him. They have a guy in Jarrett Stidham who I think they believe in. But he’s young and unproven. So there’s a lot of variables in play, with Cam not signing for what a normal quarterback of his caliber would get plays into that as well. [We’re] all going to find this out after they kind of figure things out within themselves.”
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3. Tapping into Hogan’s insight: As one would expect, the Patriots cast a wide net in exploring the possibility of signing Newton, which included speaking with a variety of people who have worked with him. That led them to wide receiver Chris Hogan, who won two Super Bowls in New England and spent last season in Carolina. Such conversations were part of the overall “mosaic” Belichick sometimes refers to when making a decision. Like Newhouse, Hogan is part of a small group of players who recently worked alongside Newton and have intimate knowledge of how the Patriots operate.
4. Newton’s jersey number: If the Patriots issue Newton jersey No. 1 and he plays for the team in 2020, it will mark the first time that the number has been in circulation since kicker Tony Franklin donned it from 1984 to 1987. Franklin, of course, was remembered for his unique barefoot kicking style. Only Franklin, John Smith and Eric Schubert (a replacement player in ’87) — all kickers — have donned No. 1 in New England.
5. Keeping tabs on salary cap: The Patriots have about $250,000 in cap space when accounting for Newton’s deal, which won’t be enough to make it through the season when factoring in the need for in-season signings. Still, there doesn’t seem to be an immediate urgency from the club to create space. Perhaps that will change as training camp approaches, when on-the-fringe veterans such as offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor ($2.1 million) could bear watching as the type of move the club considers to provide itself some relief.
6. Updating 2021 draft capital: The NFL’s stripping the Patriots of a 2021 third-round pick as part of penalties for a member of the team’s television production crew filming the Bengals’ sideline during a game in December will essentially negate the third-round compensatory pick the team is expected to receive for losing quarterback Tom Brady in free agency. Here is an updated look at the Patriots’ 2021 draft picks:
According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots are projected to receive a third-round compensatory pick in addition to two fourth-round compensatory picks in 2021.
Stephen A. Smith and Louis Riddick passionately discuss if Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton should enter Patriots training camp as the starter.
7. Hoyer’s tough luck: First Philip Rivers, now Newton. One could excuse veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer for perhaps feeling that 2020 hasn’t gone his way. Hoyer was the odd man out in Indianapolis once Rivers was signed to pair with Jacoby Brissett, and now Hoyer finds himself in an interesting spot with Newton and Stidham in New England.
8. Extended version of race/social justice conversation: Last week, it was highlighted in this space that the Patriots brought in 21 members of the organization for a roundtable discussion on race and social justice that aired on their television show. The club released an extended version of the conversation on its website this week. Among some of the additions were outside linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington sharing his experience of often being one of the only Black members of a coaching staff throughout the early part of his career.
9. Homegrown QB streak could end: If Newton starts for the Patriots, it will snap a notable streak. They haven’t started a quarterback they didn’t draft since Week 10 in 1993, when Scott Secules opened against the Bills and Jim Kelly. According to Elias Sports Bureau data, the Patriots’ 423 straight starts by homegrown quarterbacks is nearly double the next-closest streak in the Super Bowl era (227, Cowboys).
10. Did You Know: Per ESPN’s Stats & Information research, Patriots quarterbacks have rushed for 1,408 yards since 2001. Meanwhile, Newton has rushed for 4,806 yards, including 1,599 the past four seasons.