Cam Newton signed a one-year prove-it deal late last offseason with the New England Patriots, and after an underwhelming 2020 campaign the former NFL MVP will hit the open market again.
Where might Newton land? Where could he compete for a starting job?
Here are five teams who come to mind as perfect fits for Newton for the 2021 season.
Cam Newton to New Orleans Saints
A return to the NFC South. To face his former team in the Carolina Panthers twice next season. The chance to beat out the likes of mistake-prone wild card Jameis Winston and unproven tight end hybrid Taysom Hill for the Saints’ starting quarterback job. Succeeding another legend in Drew Brees.
So many juicy storylines if this comes to fruition. You can bet New Orleans will do all it can to restructure contracts and keep as much of this core together as possible, because it’s been one of the best rosters in football in recent years. Plus, the Saints have one of the best coaches in the business in Sean Payton, who’s ever the creative play designer.
Oh, and New Orleans has Michael Thomas, who before an injury-riddled 2020 campaign was pretty much unquestionably the best receiver in the NFL. Provided Thomas is healthy and the Saints can do enough salary cap gymnastics to keep most of their veterans, Newton is an ideal stopgap option.
Being so far back in the 2021 NFL Draft order precludes the possibility of New Orleans moving up for a quarterback in the first round. The team needs all those draft assets, too, in order to bring in young players on rookie contracts amid a scramble to get out of salary cap trouble.
Newton would love to play for someone like Payton, have protection from a stout offensive line like the Saints have, and throw to phenomenal, versatile playmakers like Thomas, Hill and especially stud tailback Alvin Kamara.
Not a lot of downside here. New Orleans really can’t afford to pay any QB for 2021, and Newton proved he was willing to take a pay cut in New England for a shot with a premier NFL organization. A similar chance could arise with the Saints here soon.
Cam Newton to Washington Football Team
An obvious connecting of the dots here: Former Carolina head coach Ron Rivera is now at the helm in Washington. Rivera brought Scott Turner with him from the Panthers to be the Football Team’s offensive coordinator. Turner was Newton’s quarterbacks coach for two seasons.
Beyond those strong ties between Washington’s staff and Newton, there’s a real opportunity to start for a club that just won the NFC East this past season and actually gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers more than they bargained for on Super Wild Card Weekend in a valiant losing effort.
Alex Smith recently said he believed the Football Team didn’t want him to play in 2020, and even with lackluster numbers coming off a life-threatening leg injury, his veteran leadership and experience led to a 5-1 record when he started. Taylor Heinicke started in Smith’s place in the playoffs and played extremely well under the circumstances versus the Bucs’ championship defense.
But to suggest Heinicke is a viable starting option in 2021 is a stretch at best. Between his inexperience, Smith’s implicit disenchantment with how the organization handled his epic gridiron comeback and Newton’s relationships with Rivera and Turner, all the stars are aligning for Newton to shine in the nation’s capital.
The Football Team has a phenomenal defense to back Newton up, and two capable pass-catching backs in Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. They also have a rising stud at tight end in Logan Thomas and a legitimate top receiver in Terry McLaurin.
As long as Washington brings in another receiver via a high draft pick or in free agency, the offense should be plenty stocked for someone like Newton to come in, steer the ship and help the Football Team repeat as division winners.
Cam Newton to Denver Broncos
Imagine Newton returning to the franchise he once lost to in the Super Bowl. There’s a strong chance Newton could land in Denver and beat out Drew Lock for the starting quarterback job.
The Broncos might be too far back in the draft at ninth overall to land one of this year’s premier QB prospects. With holes all over their roster and the need to build out depth to compete with the likes of the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC West, they shouldn’t reach for a rookie signal-caller. The front office has done that too often since Peyton Manning retired, and the results haven’t been good.
Instead, Denver can acquire the best player available throughout the draft and prioritize building the defense and the offensive line. With a star left tackle in Garett Bolles already in place, it’d only take another piece or two for the team to make huge improvements up front.
What’s most exciting about Newton going to the Broncos is the skill position talent he’d be surrounded with that was desperately lacking in New England. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler are all bursting with ability in Denver’s receiving corps, and Noah Fant is among the most gifted tight ends in the game. Don’t forget about Melvin Gordon in the backfield, too.
Joining an AFC West division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr at quarterback for the other three teams may not seem appealing for Newton on the surface. However, if he acquits himself well, plays at a high level and keeps the Broncos competitive, suddenly his NFL future looks a lot brighter.
Lock was Pro Football Focus’ 33rd-ranked quarterback in 2020, whereas Newton was 23rd, with far less skill around him. Sounds like a pretty big upgrade.
Cam Newton to Chicago Bears
There was a time, specifically when right around when free agency opened in March 2020, when the Bears were considered the favorite by FanDuel to land Newton.
Instead, Chicago opted to roll with Mitch Trubisky and trade for Nick Foles. At least acquiring the latter didn’t seem like a horrendous move at the time, given that Foles had won a Super Bowl MVP not long ago.
Although the Bears made the playoffs, their offense once again held them back from truly competing for a Super Bowl. Trubisky and Foles looked varying levels of incompetent, and general manager Ryan Pace frankly looks foolish as a result.
Pace is still in charge, though, and Chicago is giving him and alleged offensive guru Matt Nagy one more season to prove they can get it done.
The good news to arise from the Bears’ late-season push for the postseason was the emergence of David Montgomery. He was playing as well as any running back in the NFL down the stretch, as Nagy committed to the rushing attack in a way he had struggled to before, and it contributed to three straight wins to close December.
With a savvy, innovative schemer like Nagy installing the offense and Newton joining Montgomery as a legitimate running threat, there’s a chance for Chicago to be better than it’s been in years. The defense led by Khalil Mack should be strong still, so it comes down to how much the offense can produce.
Perhaps if Newton comes aboard at a bargain cost, it’d convince Allen Robinson to play under the franchise tag. After catching passes mostly from Blake Bortles, Trubisky and Foles throughout his career, Robinson might actually welcome the chance to work with Newton for a year — and maybe lift the Bears back to glory in the process.
Cam Newton to New England Patriots
This is the Occam’s razor destination, and while not as exciting or juicy as the other stops, it seems like the most logical one for all parties involved.
Now that Patriots offensive coordinator has had a year to feel out what Newton does best, he can better adapt the system run by Tom Brady for two previous decades to what Newton does best.
It’s on New England to do way better at surrounding its QB with better receivers. N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are the premier playmakers on the depth chart for 2021. That’s not going to get it done.
Since head coach Bill Belichick has a lot of salary cap room to work with whereas many other teams are strapped for cash this offseason, it can be a rare occasion where the Pats splurge a lot in free agency for a No. 1 receiver at the very least, say Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay.
Belichick could stand to land another proven veteran on the open market, just to give the Patriots, McDaniels and perhaps Newton more to work with if he returns. There’s a case to be made New England doesn’t have many better options, unless it trades for Jimmy Garoppolo — Brady’s initial, presumed successor.
All things considered, with the lack of offseason, quick turnaround from joining the team and the lack of high-end pass-catchers, Newton did some things well in 2020. He completed 65.8% of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt despite having no consistently viable downfield threat. His TD-INT ratio was an unimpressive eight to 10, yet the offense was so conservative and hardly allowed him to take risks to boost those numbers.
Plus, Newton showed he can still run the ball really well, carrying the rock for 592 yards on 137 attempts and scoring 12 touchdowns. That prowess on the ground helps account for Newton’s lack of scores through the air.
Don’t sleep on Super Cam coming back to Foxborough to ball out with better weapons in 2021.