The QB competition in New England has officially come down to the wire. The Patriots are reportedly frustrated internally with Cam Newton for his “misunderstanding” of COVID-19 protocols, causing him to be absent from practice until Thursday. Newton, who was required to leave the area for a medical appointment, received several negative tests during his absence. However, the tests were not conducted at team facilities, violating the NFL’s policies.
Due to his unvaccinated status, Newton will have to participate in team activities virtually until August 26th. According to Mike Giardi of NFL Network, this may open the door for Mac Jones to leapfrog Cam as the Week 1 starter.
But Newton’s preseason performance and training camp has proven that he is finally comfortable with the playbook. The former MVP racked up 103 yards in the first quarter against the Eagles, completing on eight of his nine attempts. Not only were the quality of his throws exemplary, but he was completing passes to second and third options, consistently finding the open man.
Due to his abbreviated time in New England prior to the 2020 season, Newton struggled to comprehend the offensive playbook. According to OC Josh McDaniels, there were times last summer when Newton would call a play without fully understanding the reasoning behind it. In a phone call with receiver Julian Edelman, Newton was brutally honest when it came to the Pats’ system, saying, “this (expletive) is calculus.” In December, he admitted that he was still learning the playbook as the season progressed.
According to McDaniels, Newton’s uncertainty has been decimated in 2021.
“He just knows much more about what we’re doing. It’s a lot less new learning everyday, more repetition of things he already understands,” said the offensive coordinator in early August. “That would be true for I think every player I have ever coached in their second year in our system. Things slow down. Things make more sense.”
Newton’s stronger grasp of the playbook has allowed him to be more decisive on the field, as shown by his performance in Philadelphia this past week. He has begun to process plays at a quicker pace, leading to less sacks and more open completions. This will allow Cam to thrive in the Patriots system going forward.
Next, while the “Cam had no weapons” argument can be cliched at times, it rings true nonetheless. Ryan Izzo, New England’s highest ranked TE of 2020, finished the season with an underwhelming 13 receptions for 199 yards. The tight end group as a whole combined for just one touchdown reception.
The last time that Newton played with an elite tight end, he took the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Greg Olsen was the QB’s favorite target throughout his time in Carolina, as the duo connected for 36 scores in 111 games together. In 2021, Cam will be able to enjoy a similar connection with both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who combined for 12 touchdowns in 2021.
The wide receiver room also received an upgrade in the offseason with the additions of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. Agholor is coming off a dominant 2020 campaign in which he racked up 896 yards, 48 receptions, and eight touchdowns. Additionally, N’Keal Harry has reportedly had the best training camp of his career, providing hope that he will finally break out in ‘21. The New England WR core has gotten some much-needed depth which it lacked in 2020, when it was led by Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd.
Finally, Newton is a steady source of leadership for the Patriots, both on the field and in the locker room. Throughout his time in Foxborough, the veteran has repeatedly shown his ability to keep the offense loose and locked in. Even when sidelined during the later minutes of a preseason game, Newton can be found sprinting down the field to celebrate a big play with his teammates.
This natural leadership is not found in all quarterbacks, and is one of Cam’s strengths. I believe that it would benefit Mac Jones to spend a season learning under the veteran. When Mac’s time comes to take over the offense, he will be much more prepared in the way of managing his responsibilities and leading the team. These are skills which Jones may lack if he is pressed into a starting job from the jump.
In the best case scenario, a Mac Jones “redshirt” season could unfold similar to the 2017 Alex Smith / Patrick Mahomes situation in Kansas City. After appearing in one game in his rookie campaign, Mahomes won the MVP award in 2018. He credits much of his success to the lessons that he learned from Smith.
“It gave me a blueprint, and it was something that helped me out a lot early in my career,” said Mahomes. “Just knowing what film I need to watch on what day and how to go out there and practice the right way.”
To conclude, I believe that Cam Newton should be the starting quarterback when New England takes the field in Week One. Following an offseason devoted to learning, Cam enters 2021 with increased comfort with the playbook. He also has a talented array of weapons at his disposal, which he was deprived of in 2020. Finally, it would be logical for Mac Jones to spend a season learning under the former MVP. While Cam Newton undoubtedly struggled last season, all signs point to a bounce back 2021 campaign.
(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)