Cam Newton is a Free Agent
A few years ago, this would have seemed unthinkable, but the toll of injuries and the wear and tear from his physical style of play have worn the former MVP down so much, that the last time we saw him on the field, he looked a shell of his old self.
After a slightly messy divorce from the Carolina Panthers (check out his hieroglyphic response if you haven’t already) proceeded by some reported attempts to trade him; Cam finds himself in a free agency quarterback pool that is looking a little thin after the first wave of signings.
Brady is a Buccaneer, Mariota is a Raider, Allen is a Redskin, Teddy is a Panther, Brees, Dak and Tannehill all remained with their teams and Rivers is a Colt (yes, I wrote those in the order I care about them). This left Jameis Winston as the headline act of the QB market (unless you think Joe Flacco is ready for that comeback run) until Cam burst onto the scene.
So, besides this making Winston more melancholy than he is already feeling, what does this mean for the 30-year-old 2015 MVP?
Let’s look at the narrative around Newton and his play over the last two years. The general consensus from the world at large is that Cam was done. I’m paraphrasing but statements such as “he can’t throw accurately anymore”, “the injuries have overcome the talent”, “he can’t run like he used to” and “his shoulder and foot injuries have finished him” have generally flown around the Twitterverse and coloured a lot of opinions about him.
If we look purely at the stats, these opinions seem easy to support. As per PFF, Cam has been a middle of the road passer since that excellent 2015 campaign, grading out at 22nd, 25th and 23rd (passing grade rank) respectively through 2016-18. As we know, his 2018 and 2019 campaigns were shut down through injury, so finishing 23rd in 2018 was actually fairly impressive. In fact, the injury-shortened 2018 season was shaping up to be his best as a passer since that 2015 run. Cam had thrown 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, completed 67.9% of his passes and posted a passer rating of 94.2 in only 14 games. His rushing attempts per game dropped to 7.2, which was the lowest since 2013 when he made the Pro Bowl. Overall, he was in line to rush less, pass more effectively and score more through the air than he had done in several years before he was shut down.
Yes, Cam is a physical freak that dominated the league with his frightening rushing ability through his early years, and he has never been a top echelon passer, but he proved in 2018 that he was still a viable threat at the quarterback position. Not only that, but in terms of fantasy production, Cam has always been a top-level option at the position. Will we see the same Cam Newton that has vulture goal-line touchdowns for most of his career, or will we see a more cautious Cam that allows his running backs to dive in from the one-yard line? With that in mind, let’s go around the houses with viable and some not so probable landing destinations for the indomitable QB1.
The “more than likely” pick – Los Angeles Chargers
We were sick of waiting for Philip Rivers to decide where he was going to sign and be mediocre in 2020 and when he finally made his way over to Indianapolis, it must have been sweet relief for a Chargers team that now find themselves without a legitimate starting quarterback for 2020. Tyrod Taylor has proven at the Bills and the Browns that he can be a serviceable option. He makes smart decisions, still moves exceptionally well in and out of the pocket and protects the ball. But is he a full-time starter or simply one of the best backups in the league? History suggests the latter.
Throw Newton into the mix with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler and you have a genuinely frightening offense that could give the Chiefs a challenge in the west. If Henry stays healthy he’s a top tier fantasy TE and Austin Ekeler blew the fantasy world apart last year. It’s likely that Ekeler’s value remains the same, despite the threat of Cam taking goal line carries from the home run threat. Adding Cam adds a small amount of value to the downfield skills of Mike Williams, but Keenan Allen likely stays as a solid WR2. Add in the connection that Cam has with Trai Turner, the recently acquired former-Panther, and you have some viable cohesion with a line that has struggled to protect it’s QB in the past.
It all seems to make sense, but there is a hitch. The Chargers pick at #6 in the 2020 NFL draft and depending on the moves above them, LA could have a choice between drafting the future at the position or going all in on Newton and picking a tackle to sure up the line. Justin Herbert? Jordan Love? Even Tua may be in the mix if circumstances change. It may be too tempting for LA to pass up drafting their QB of the future.
The stars seem to be aligning for Hollywood Cam to be a Bolt. The Chargers have cap room aplenty and could definitely afford to give a multi-year deal to the multi-talented signal caller.
The “wishful thinking” pick – New England Patriots
This would be an intriguing match and would help temper some of the disappointment in New England about losing the main reason they have consistently won for nearly 20 years. Tom Brady is in Tampa now, and the future does not look particularly rosy for the Pats. Could Cam change this?
Beyond Julian Edelman, the supporting cast is young and/or inconsistent – N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Myers and Mohammed Sanu will line up at wide receiver and Matt Lacosse/Ryan Izzo/Danny Vitale make up the numbers elsewhere. The running game has the potential to be solid, with the dynamic James White and Sony Michel leading the way and 2019 rookie Damien Harris yet to see significant action, there is potential in the backfield. White has proven to be a solid mid-round running back with high upside in PPR leagues and a healthy Edelman is a high floor low ceiling option that can win you a week. However, Michel’s value takes a dive with the Cam running threat, especially if he takes goal line carries. It would be worth taking a shot on Harry if Cam rolls into town, and whichever tight end emerges from the group could get the kind of Greg Olsen like targets that Cam gave out in the past, but post-Gronk, this a minefield.
Backed by a solid defence and the reigning DPOTY Stefon Gilmore, this team won’t just roll over and die in the absence of Brady, but maintaining the high level expected will be extremely tough. From a Newton perspective – who wants to follow THAT act from Tom Brady?
This just doesn’t feel like a Belichick move. I believe he already has his guy in Jarrett Stidham (I contradict myself a bit below, but in this scenario, this is true) and bringing in Cam just seems superfluous to a team that will underachieve regardless. Not only that, but the Pats are as close to the cap as you can be and simply don’t have enough room to manoeuvre to sign a starting level quarterback.
Does this happen? I don’t believe so.
The “okay, that would be a cool move” pick – Las Vegas Raiders
This is the scenario that I would most like to see play out. It veers a little bit into the unrealistic; but stick with me.
Step one – The LV Raiders send QB Derek Carr to the New England Patriots for a third-round pick and Mohammed Sanu.
Step two – Marcus Mariota spends 24 hours lording it over Jameis Winston because he assumes he is the starting QB in Vegas.
Step three – Gruden and Mayock bring in Cam Newton as their new QB1.
Logical analysis for a slightly crazy scenario will now follow. Mariota and Carr are somewhat juxtaposed in their approach to the game. Carr is careful, hits his first read and checks down a lot. Mariota at his best has a great deep ball and is a threat to take off and run at any time. Bringing Mariota in to back up Carr seems like an odd move, despite the reports that Mariota was highly rated by Mayock and Gruden in that draft class.
Cam offers the Raiders something different; a new lease on life at the position and a dynamic threat that is sure to keep the Vegas crowds engaged and interested in their team. Mariota seems like the perfect back up to the now “injury prone” Newton and Derek Carr could be exactly what the Patriots are looking for at QB – safety and consistency whilst they find their next steps. The issue here is the Raider’s cap room (4th least) and the value of Derek Carr to the Pats who have the 2nd least cap room. Tough times.
There are weapons in Vegas – Tyrell Williams is a legitimate deep threat, the addition of Sanu in the trade gives Newton a solid over the middle #2 and don’t sleep on Hunter Renfrow as a viable flex option in PPR. The two obvious weapons are the newly resurgent Darren Waller, who was consistently in the top five TE’s weekly, and 2019 rookie Josh Jacobs, who has some humongous fantasy games for a below average offensive line. Again, goal line carries from Cam could hamper the touchdown value of Jacobs, but he has no other threat to take carries in the backfield, so his value remains high.
The “wildcard” pick – San Francisco 49ers
“But Jimmy G got them to a Superbowl” you cry! Well sorry Bay area fans, but you got there, and you lost because your quarterback couldn’t hit a deep ball. Apparently, the 49er’s were never really interested in Brady (it may have just been a very plausible Dameshek theory), but all the swirling rumors around the GOAT had to have caused Jimmy G to feel just a little uncomfortable.
Let’s explore this for a second. The 49er’s would potentially be the reigning Superbowl Champions (I say potentially because…Pat Mahomes), if Garoppolo had hit that pass to Sanders. Or if he had managed to stay calm and step up amid a fierce Kansas City pass rush. Yes, he was solid throughout 2019, but nothing more, nothing less. Garoppolo signed a five year, $137,500,000 contract with Niners in 2018 and the only realistic out for San Francisco (as per spotrac.com) is in 2020. Garoppolo only has $4.2 million guaranteed in 2020 and this is a small amount of dead money for San Fran to swallow when you consider how Jacksonville gobbled up over $18 million in dead cap by trading away Nick Foles.
Let’s say in this scenario, Bill Belichick wanted to prove a point. He trades for Jimmy G for a couple picks and a player, takes on the fairly manageable remaining three years of the contract and has the guy he wanted in 2018. Cam strolls into San Francisco with a cigar and immediately raises the fantasy value of every player on the offence.
George Kittle business becomes the hottest in the draft with the addition of Cam. Give Kittle anywhere near the level of targets that Olsen and Thomas got in Carolina and you have a league winner. Add in the increased value for Samuel and *insert receiver here* and you have two third-round flier picks that could be undervalued otherwise. Cam with Shannahan and that running game? Sign me up.
Let’s quickly run through some other touted options:
Washington Redskins – Rivera and Cam on one more wild ride? Sounds good but signing Kyle Allen signals that the Skins are rolling with Haskins.
Pittsburgh Steelers – I just don’t see this happening. Too much money tied up in Ben and not enough cap to make it work.
Cincinnati Bengals – If they don’t draft Burrow number one overall then this might fit. IF.
Miami Dolphins – Too much draft capital to bother spending that much money on an injury prone soon-to-be 31-year-old quarterback. They’re drafting the future now.
As always, get in touch if you have an opinion or a team you think I’ve missed!
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Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.