Less than a month after signing with the Patriots and heading into his first NFL training camp in New England, Cam Newton is indeed in a stiff competition for the starting quarterback job.
He’s battling one man for the right to point to the sky in his own customary fashion and step under center against the Dolphins in the Sept. 13 opener at Gillette Stadium.
No, that competition isn’t some existential battle with the memory of departed GOAT Tom Brady.
Nor is it a real-world race with second-year former fourth-round pick and fellow Auburn alum Jarrett Stidham, even if the young incumbent does have the minimal advantage of a year under his belt living the football life in New England.
It certainly isn’t a fight to play with journeyman backup Brian Hoyer.
Nope. The only man that Newton is competing with for the Patriots starting quarterback job – for the right to be the man to replace Brady in the record books after TB12’s historic 20-year record run in Foxborough – is himself.
No. 1 overall pick.
No. 1 in your program.
The 2015 NFL MVP.
The man who was once arguably the most unique, indefensible force in football.
That’s what Newton is battling. That’s who he must live up to and overcome.
Having seen little more than a few social media hype videos (OK, way more than a few!) and his luggage retrieval at Logan Airport, the gauntlet is set. We all know Newton’s history, both good and bad.
While the highlights of his resume are obvious, so too are the questions he faces. There is, after all, a reason a former MVP QB in his early-30s was signed this late in the NFL summer for guaranteed money that wouldn’t even get you a decent house in the great Boston real estate market.
Newton brings the baggage of recent injuries and multiple years of ineffectiveness with him to his mirror-facing competition.
He throws the ball now with a surgically-repaired right shoulder.
He runs for his NFL life with a surgically-repaired foot.
The last eight times he stepped on an NFL field as a starting quarterback, he limped off of it a loser.
Right or wrong, some in NFL circles have to feel like Newton is physically not the same guy capable of the same eye-popping plays he once was. The actions of their free agent disinterest send a message.
After 86 days of unemployment, even Newton himself promises to bring a new Cam to the competition that the world has never seen. One he claims he’s never seen. A “ticked-off dog” and more.
In a traditional world Newton’s every step this summer in Foxborough would be nightly news. Fans and media would monitor his most minuscule of movements. Blog entries, tweets and tales of practice field fun would spread faster than misinformation about mask wearing on social media.
Even with all the limitations of training camp, Newton’s competition with himself is the story of the summer.
Can he live up to his own hype?
Can he prove that his resume is not just a list of past accomplishments but also potential preview of future successes?
Can he show that he doesn’t just want to prove the world wrong, but still has all the tools to do just that?
Can Cam Newton prove that he’s still Cam Newton? Still the guy who can as easily throw a bullet by a cornerback as he can run over the same helpless defender if he so chooses?
With apologies to Stidham, Hoyer and the cliché coaching propaganda that Bill Belichick will promote that there is a true open competition for the Patriots starting quarterback job, Newton is a one-man competition.
The Patriots starting quarterback job is both there for the taking and his to lose.
Cam Newton is in a competition with himself, battling his past, fighting for his football future and promoting his present.
Good luck, Cam.