Cam Newton’s surprising return to the Patriots may not be the optimal choice for some but could lead the team to familiar territory in January after an unsuccessful 2020 season.
At the start of the 2020 NFL season, the New England Patriots were in unfamiliar territory at the quarterback position for the first time in 20 years. Six-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady departed from the team to pursue and capture his seventh Lombardi Trophy in Florida with his former football-spiking tight end and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After nearly three months as a free agent, 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton signed a one-year deal with the Patriots in the summer of 2020. Fans tensely awaited the start of the season as a slight scent of optimism flowed through Gillette Stadium, the anticipation of the debut of the new quarterback the new-look offense was set to take place at home against long-time rival, the Miami Dolphins.
Newton opened up the season leading the Patriots to a 2-1 record with victories over the Dolphins and Las Vegas along with a 35-30 loss in Seattle. In those three games, the team combined for over 500 yards on the ground while the Auburn product rushed in four touchdowns, making a convincing argument that this new style of Patriots football was set to carry the team into a new era in Boston.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
The team lost their next three games and never regain the dominance running the ball they found early on with Newton struggling to move the ball through the air though he did finish the year with more rushing touchdowns than any other quarterback with 12. The team was unable to capture the AFC East championship for the first time since 2008 finishing with a 7-8 record and ending the season with a losing record for the first time since 2000.
At the end of the year, it seemed as though the two parties would go their separate ways and the team would be on the hunt for their next starting quarterback. However, on March 12, Newton signed a one-year, $14 million deal to return to the team to presumably remain the team’s starter during the 2021 season.
Full offseason and free agency should give Patriots fans hope and excitement for Cam Newton’s return.
The return of the quarterback does mean that he will be looking at a full training camp this season while last year his late signing paired with missing out on the usual offseason activities due to the pandemic ensures him more time to prepare compared to his first season as a Patriot.
Free agency’s legal tampering period began on March 15 and, within the first two days, Bill Belichick made it clear that the team was going to focus on building a receiving core that could challenge any defense as this was an area the team struggled most with last season.
The Patriots signed nine players during the first 24 hours of free-agency and spent nearly $270 million. The team signed two tight ends with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith who was second in touchdown receptions with eight in the red zone last season.
Since Gronk’s departure, the Patriots have had the lowest pass-catching tight end production in the NFL so this should surely aid with that. They also signed two receivers, Nelson Agholor and former San Francisco 49er Kendrick Bourne. In total, the Patriots had 12 receiving touchdowns last season while these four pass-catchers combined for 22 receiving scores.
Belichick also currently possesses two picks within the top 50 at this year’s NFL Draft with the No.15, and No. 46 picks, and nine total. While Belichick does prefer to trade down into the draft, based on his aggressiveness during free-agency, he may look to take a different approach by using the higher pick or even trading upwards to secure another top-tier receiver.
With the recent signings and unusually high picks in this year’s draft paired with the recent additions to the roster, players who opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic will be also be returning to the roster. Members of the terrifying 2019 defense including Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung will be back this year, plus Marcus Cannon, Brandon Bolden and Matt LaCosse will all be dawning the navy blue once more.
Following this unique, lackluster season by the Patriots, that faint scent of optimism that quickly evaporated early on during the 2020 season has started to flow through the halls of Gillette Stadium once again with the recent free-agency signings and with the NFL Draft on the horizon, the Patriots’ return to the playoffs doesn’t seem as ludicrous as it once did in January with Cam Newton leading the team.