Los Angeles Rams must consider Cam Newton as 2021 starting quarterback

Cam Newton over Jared Goff as the Los Angeles Rams' 2021 quarterback? Not as crazy as it may sound.

By Matt Fitzgerald
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams really, really need an upgrade at quarterback, and even though Cam Newton may not seem like a huge step up from Jared Goff in 2021, there’s reason to believe he would be.

None of this speculation is based on any hard reporting or specific, recent rumors, other than ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting the New England Patriots and Newton are expected to part ways for this coming season. It’s purely based on the bad play Goff has shown this season, and how Newton showed, despite lackluster numbers with the Patriots, that he still has plenty left in the tank going forward.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback: Cam Newton over Jared Goff in 2021?

Los Angeles Rams quarterback: Cam Newton over Jared Goff in 2021?
Dec 27, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) returns to the sideline following a turnover on downs against the Seattle Seahawks during the third quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Sounds stupid. If you were to box score scout these guys, it looks like Goff is the clear superior option. Recent, bottom-line NFL success? Goff over Newton. Passing stats? Goff is better, though it’s closer than you’d think. Contract numbers? Well, Goff is in the midst of a massive deal, and Newton is slated to be a free agent after making a minimal 2020 salary.

That last factor really explains why Newton is the superior option.

Did you know if the Rams trade Goff on or after June 1, they’ll save $27.825 million against the 2021 salary cap, per Over the Cap? They’re currently projected to be $20 million in the red, so that’d be quite a savings. And if Newton was to play even for 10 times the amount of the salary he just made in New England, it’d only be $10.5 million.

Given the fact that Newton didn’t exactly light the world on fire with the Patriots, there’s reason to believe he won’t command even that much value on the open market. However, there are few better destinations for him to land in.

Think about how Goff missed Week 17 with a broken thumb, and unheralded backup John Wolford did enough to beat the Arizona Cardinals 18-7 and get the Rams into the playoffs. Wolford was making his NFL regular-season debut, yet still positioned L.A. for success, thanks in part to 56 yards rushing on six carries.

What could a prolific rusher like Newton do in his place? How much more could an athletic QB, unlike Goff, open up McVay’s system? These are questions Rams fans and decision-makers had to be asking themselves as the regular-season finale unfolded.

How about we address the dire situation Newton was thrust into with the Patriots, shall we?

Cam Newton actually had marginal success with New England Patriots

Cam Newton actually had marginal success with New England Patriots
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass against the New York Jets during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the worst-kept secret that legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick can’t spot receiver talent to save his life. His latest misfire was first-round pick N’Keal Harry. He seems to have little potential to avoid being a bust entering his third season as a pro.

The receivers the Pats do (somewhat?) hit on are almost by accident. Think about who flanked Newton this year in Foxborough. Jakobi Meyers was the leading receiver on the team. A second-year undrafted player.

See the problem here? At times, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels somewhat tailored his long-established system with Tom Brady to fit Newton’s strengths. For long stretches of the season, the game plan was inexplicably vanilla, receivers couldn’t get open, and Newton couldn’t trust hardly anyone.

All this came, mind you, with Newton picking up the system on the fly after signing in July, spitting out probably 30-word play calls off a wristband, and having a defense behind him that missed multiple key starters due to COVID-19 opt outs and ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders‘ weighted DVOA, including dead-last versus the run.

Factoring those elements in, Newton could’ve done a lot worse than 592 yards rushing, 2,657 yards passing and 20 total touchdowns in 2020. He went 7-8 as a starter behind an offensive line that was 28th out of 32 teams in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders, despite Newton’s athleticism and knack for escaping the pocket to create big plays from broken ones.

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Los Angeles Rams would provide Cam Newton his best-ever supporting cast

Los Angeles Rams would provide Cam Newton his best-ever supporting cast
Dec 6, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) and head coach Sean McVay against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Name the best receivers Newton ever played with during his lengthy tenure with the Carolina Panthers. I’ll wait. Tight end Greg Olsen was the only legitimate, long-term weapon in the passing game Newton ever had. We just went over the dearth of options in New England.

Imagine how much of a revelation it’d be for Newton to actually play with high-end skill players. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are legitimately one of the best receiver duos in the NFL. The Rams also have a pair of underrated, exceptional tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett.

Instead of burdening the aging signal-caller with running the ball so often, McVay could extend Newton’s career and deploy the deep stable of backs at his disposal to help balance Los Angeles’ offense. Woods is known to take handoffs on jet sweeps and end-around runs, while Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown can all pound the rock from the backfield.

Buzzed-about general manager candidate and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick spoke about how McVay “would have a field day” if Newton were his quarterback prior to the latter landing in New England last offseason:

Oh, and let’s not forget the defense. First-year coordinator Brandon Staley transformed the Rams into one of the NFL’s best, and even if he flees for a head coaching job, a similar system should keep that unit on track for 2021. Having that Aaron Donald-led defense to complement Newton would be a dream scenario for the underappreciated QB.

Goff has done little else but regress under McVay’s watch. When the o-line was banged up last season, he couldn’t adjust and remains skittish in the pocket when pressure is in his face. He had plenty of weapons to throw to, a viable running game and an elite defense this year. It still resulted in 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a 90.0 passer rating and an identical-to-Newton 7.2 yards per pass attempt.

Los Angeles Rams have higher long-term QB upside with Cam Newton over Jared Goff

Los Angeles Rams have higher long-term QB upside with Cam Newton over Jared Goff
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

That hardly makes sense if you’re only thinking about the 31-year-old Newton compared to Goff, who’s 26. But hear yours truly out: Goff getting shipped out of town one June 1 or after gives him a fresh start with a new team, or, you know, maybe spells the end of his days as a high-end starting quarterback in the NFL.

The limitations for Goff are pretty clear to see. It seems unlikely for a player to play well at the start of their career, regress for two full seasons as a starter and then come back better than ever, without a change of scenery or offensive system. Can you imagine Goff playing in a Super Bowl again without getting carried there? Hard to.

As for Newton, what’s the worst that could happen with him? He’d be a cheap, one-year rental for the Rams at worst, and bring an element to the offense McVay has never gotten to work with before. Newton would have the best cast of skill players he’s ever had by a long shot, and a wizard of an offensive coach at the peak of his powers. Oh, and a defense led by Donald backing him.

If Newton doesn’t work out for some reason under these far more favorable circumstances in LA? Well, it’s better than the Rams being disappointed by another season of Goff, for a cap hit of $34.625 million.

Plus, if Newton turns out to be a total catastrophe, however unlikely, there’s the option to go even further and find a superior, longer-term starting quarterback to, at a certain point, supplant Newton, in 2022.

But based on how Newton has managed throughout his career with less ideal talent around him, and the urgency he’ll feel to keep his NFL career alive, going to the Rams seems like a perfect, logical match for both sides. If he hits big in the City of Angels, Newton delays LA’s search for another QB to capitalize on its championship window and still has more flexibility and upside at the position than it’d have with a capped-out Goff otherwise.

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