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The Newton Theory of Relativity

The personnel moves in Boston sports have staggered the Hub for the last 13 months. The exoduses of Mookie Betts, Tom Brady, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Benintendi, Rob Gronkowski and probably two dozen I can’t even think of right now have gobsmacked the fanbase after two decades of dominance.

But on Friday, we were hit with perhaps the most shocking signing since the Declaration of Independence, when the New England Patriots agreed to a 1-year deal, worth up to $14-million, with quarterback Cam Newton.

The reaction was swift, or as swift as you can find your favorite gif featuring the word “No”. (My personal favorite is Michael Scott’s reaction to Toby’s return to Dunder Mifflin, it’s conveys the appropriate amount of “please god no” that you need in a short-clip-video-reaction.)

How could the Patriots do this? How could they bring back Cam Newton? Newton threw 8 touchdowns in 2020, EIGHT! And two of them came in a meaningless week 17 win over the Jets. Jakobi Meyers was the team’s best target in 2020, do you know how many touchdowns he caught?

Zero.

Do you know how many he threw in 2020?

Two.

Meyers, an undrafted receiver, threw 1/4th as many touchdowns as the former #1 overall pick, Heisman trophy winning, league MVP, Cam Newton. And the story on Friday was that the team was giving that player $14 million to return for 2021.

However, to quote Lee Corso:

Not so fast my friend.”

The sticker price is shocking, but with very little digging it is revealed that Newton is playing on a slightly more valuable contract than he played the 2020 season under. (Albert Breer called it a “beefed up version of last year’s contract.”) The deal is for $5 million in base salary, roughly $1.5 guaranteed, the other $3.5 is in roster bonuses and the remaining $9 million is all incentives and escalators which if Newton’s 2021 performance mirrors what his 2020 was, he won’t hit any of those. So the team is on the hook for a max of $5 million if Cam Newton plays the entire season in New England and is terrible. That’s a giant IF.

The Patriots for all intents and purposes don’t have a quarterback. As far as the general NFL populous is concerned the Patriots did not have a QB1 on the roster as of Friday morning. If the Patriots were to engage in talks with say, the San Francisco 49ers about acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo, what leverage would the Patriots have? The 49ers would hold all the chips knowing that the Patriots are without a starter. Newton at least gives an impression that, maybe the Patriots really do like Newton and are okay with going that way if they can’t find a better option. And I do believe that New England will be looking for another quarterback, who is it?

They will have conversations about trading for a veteran passer, if a deal can be struck with a San Francisco, then the team could move on from Newton quite painlessly ($1.5 million won’t kill the cap, the Patriots have the 3rd most cap room in the NFL heading into legal tampering).

If it’s a rookie, what would the harm be to have Newton in Foxboro to battle it out with a Trey Lance or a Mac Jones for the starting gig? As we’ve seen in the modern NFL, very rarely do first round picks take the reigns in week 1 and toss their way to Canton. I would feel a lot better about any highly drafted QB if they had wrested the starting job away from Cam Newton rather than be handed the reigns at an April press conference and hope for the best.

Anything could happen with Newton in New England going forward. He could be cut in camp, dumped after a Jimmy G reunion or perhaps beaten out by a highly picked rookie and unwilling to serve as a backup. He could be the starter this season, mentor a rookie and depart at seasons end with his job and contract in New England done. There are so many possibilities for how this will play out, but there are even more possibilities for the team now that they have, atleast on paper, a viable QB. (Maybe.) Out of all of these possibilities, the least likely of which I believe is Cam Newton starting 16-games for the New England Patriots and earning $14 million.

Theories abound, and the plot thickens.



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