In a normal year a veteran quarterback signing with a new team on 4th of July weekend would put the passer behind the proverbial eight ball.
Guys who are going to start under center in the NFL sign in March not July, right?
But we are all intimately aware that thanks to the coronavirus 2020 is far from normal, whether in the NFL or in the world at large.
So while many a cliché theorist has curiously spent the last couple days wondering if Cam Newton’s late arrival to New England might hinder the former NFL MVP’s chances of earning the starting quarterback job – aka the right to follow in Tom Brady’s Foxborough footsteps – the reality is the exact opposite.
Recall, at one point the popular nonsensical narrative being spun by many a Patriots pundit was that veteran journeyman backup Brian Hoyer might have to open the season as the starter because second-year former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham just wouldn’t be ready for the Sept. 13 battle with the Dolphins at Gillette.
How could he be, right? He missed an offseason of OTAs and passing camps due to the coronavirus shutdown. Just didn’t get the requisite reps in the system and with “his” corps of receivers.
Hoyer would have to be the holdover thanks to his veteran experience, including multiple tours through Josh McDaniels’ scheme.
Now, though, after Newton’s arrival on a one-year, low-money deal, the story being pedaled is somehow the opposite. Now, the former No. 1 overall pick, Heisman-winner and Super Bowl participant who led his team to a 15-1 mark in Carolina back in 2015 won’t have time to beat out Stid the Kid for the job.
Blink. Blink, blink.
What exactly did Newton miss while watching the market for his services crash and burn faster than an early SpaceX rocket?
Zoom calls? A couple pick-up throwing sessions with Gunner Olszewski?
The reality is that when Newton and Stidham report to training camp (fingers crossed!) later this month, they will open up a competition on a pretty damn level playing field. There is a favorite, a presumed starter -- it’s clearly Newton and not Stidham.
Sure, Stidham has been in the Patriots offense and environment for a year since his selection out of Auburn in April 2019. But, what’s that’s worth?
The Patriots aren’t running the Brady offense in 2020. Regardless of which former Auburn star wins the job, the new-look New England offense will be tailored to a more athletic option at the QB position. McDaniels and yet-to-be-announced quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch will see to that.
So much of what Stidham went through last year will be rendered meaningless. Maybe some of the verbiage will carry over. Maybe some of the concepts. But lots will look a lot different with TB12 having taken his talents to Tampa.
And there were no real workouts this spring. N’Keal Harry’s been in Houston. Mohamed Sanu has been recovering from ankle surgery elsewhere. Even those reported throwing sessions were with a skeleton crew of pass-catching talent.
So, Newton arrives with 125 games of NFL action under his fashion-savvy belt. He’s had a career in multiple systems with multiple play callers using a variety of verbiage.
Any advantage Stidham would theoretically have based on scheme or personnel familiarity is wiped out by Newton’s overall talent and experience. And who’s to say Newton won’t be playing Zoom call or WebEx catch-up over the next few weeks to pull even closer to Stidham before setting foot on the training camp practice fields of Foxborough? Laptops and iPads are after all the only necessary tools of a hard-working, distanced football player these days.
Similarly, the limited offseason, late Newton arrival and curtailed preseason of just two games could and should benefit the Patriots as well. (If the preseason is wiped out altogether, all the better.) Opposing defenses didn’t have months to digest the Patriots quarterback addition and concoct a kryptonite for Bill Belichick’s new Superman.
McDaniels, Fisch and Newton may have almost a full month of tinkering in the training camp lab to find the unique weapon’s fit in the Patriots offense before anyone, maybe even including the media, gets a look at life after Brady in the New England passing attack.
So, no, Newton’s July signing won’t hinder his ability to win the starting job at quarterback for the Patriots or New England’s ability to devise a new-look attack under his leadership for 2020.
Rather, Newton arrives far more likely than not to easily derail the Stidham era that never was and take over the top spot in a Patriots offense that nobody – including unsuspecting opponents – may be ready for.
Whether this was the plan all along for either Newton or Belichick’s Patriots is very much debatable and probably another column for another day.
But as far as Newton finding a starting job and the Patriots landing a starting quarterback, it may just have worked out about as well as anyone could have expected in the end. Happy 4th of July, Patriot Nation!