What Will New England Look Like with Cam Newton
The New England Patriots have finally made the move to bring in Cam Newton after numerous checks on his health and meetings with the team. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has reported that his contract is worth up to $7.5 million. That's a hefty sum more than some of the other leftovers signed this offseason. Jameis Winston took $1 million flat and Andy Dalton will make three times that much, both for one-year deals. New England's alternatives were Bryan Hoyer, an age 35 veteran who was last seen bricking his one shot as the Colts' starter and Jarrett Stidham. Stidham's only action as a rookie was in relief of Tom Brady during two blowouts. He went two of four for 14 yards and got benched after throwing a pick-six. He was also sacked once.
Newton isn't a direct replacement for Brady's arm but he's clearly the team's best option in lieu of the GOAT's departure. So what does New England's offense look like under Newton?
The Pats have often gotten away with running the ball more often than most because they typically have good defenses and they are usually winning. Having leads that are hard to chip away at makes running a lot more viable, even if it's a less effective way of moving the ball. They were 19th in passing play percentage last season and Newton is only going to reinforce that philosophy.
Through eight nearly full seasons in Carolina, Newton's offenses peaked at 16th in passing rate and placed 25th in the league on average. This was largely on the back of Newton's ability to scramble and be utilized on designed runs but Carolina also gave copious carries to their backs on numerous occasions. Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Christian McCaffrey all had 200-carry seasons in Carolina. Some of this is on Ron Rivera, the team's head coach, but much of it falls on how defenders react when Newton is on the field. His presence as a rusher is freezing linebackers and opening lanes for the running back. This often grants extra efficiency to backs with mobile quarterbacks (see: Morris, Alfred). Expect the same effects to take hold in New England with Sony Michel and possibly Damien Harris. As a sophomore, Harris led an Alabama team that featured Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs in rushing yards. He would go on to post three seasons of 1,000 yards or more from scrimmage at the powerhouse university. He's a sneaky leverage play off Michel in the final rounds of drafts.
At his peak, Newton was a gunslinging passer who was averaging over 10 yards of target distance on each attempt. Most recently (2018), Newton posted a 7.2 average depth of target but did earn an above-average Completion Percentage Over Expectation. This measures the completion percentage of a passer versus the league average based on the difficulty of their throws using target depth. Newton was a timid passer but he was accurate within the style. If Bill Bellicheck has seen any film of Newton in recent years-he's probably seen every snap-that's the nature of play he's going to have his new passer replicate.
Luckily for him, that's essentially the exact style New England has been running for years with Julian Edelman and James White being the biggest beneficiaries. The offense has both the weapons and practice to recreate the environment that saw Newton succeed the most as a passer in.
This does not leave a lot of room for a breakout from dynasty league star N'Keal Harry. The first-round receiver from Arizona State caught just 12 balls in his rookie season. Harry profiled as a rangy outside receiver like Devin Funchess coming out of college and that's not necessarily the type of wideout who benefits from New England's current offense. White and Edelman are the best bets to soak up volume and should not see a devastating drop in efficiency as the offense transitions to Newton.
The last fantasy angle to look at is Newton himself. As long as we've known him, Bellicheck has never had a passer like Newton. Brady and Newton are polar opposites and even the myriad of backups that have passed through New England haven't possessed a tenth of Newton's rushing capabilities. The closest comparison we have is the brief time Jacoby Brissett got to take snaps while Tom Brady was suspended and Jimmy Garopolo was injured. In two games, the soon-to-be Colt carried the ball 12 times for 71 yards and scored once. A lumbering runner, Brissett was still able to make use of his legs during his pair of starts. With time to prepare designed runs for a better athlete, Newton will have a weekly rushing floor that few passers in the entire league can claim. If New England optimizes Newton's throws like Carolina did in his final healthy year, a top-five season isn't out of the picture. His rushing floor alone will likely propel him to a fringe-QB1 projection and makes him a stunning value in drafts until the market course-corrects.