For only the second time in two decades, the New England Patriots must find a name other than Tom Brady to start under center in Week 1. After releasing Cody Kessler yesterday, their options are currently journeyman Brian Hoyer or sophomore Auburn product Jarrett Stidham, who barely played his rookie season after going in the fourth round of last year's draft.
It seems likely the Patriots will add another quarterback in some form before the season starts, but the time has come and gone for New England to shoot for a quick-fix solution like Andy Dalton. Still, Cam Newton remains unsigned, and while there has been nothing linking the team to the former MVP, it's still a talking point because it makes a lot of sense. Newton's market is barebones for a number of reasons and he's almost guaranteed to bring more production than any of the Patriots' other options right now. That's why Greg Jennings argued on First Things First this morning that New England is making a mistake by not going after Newton.
Jennings' argument, and the general reasoning of most outside Gillette Stadium, can be summed up as, "What do they have to lose?"
And that's a fair point. The Patriots are pressed up against the cap ceiling, but as Jennings notes, teams can always make some room to find the money for talent they don't have. New England couldn't clear enough to sign Newton to a long-term deal (nor would they want to if they did decide to bring him in), but the worst-case scenario for Belichick is he commits around $5 million to Newton, he doesn't work out, and they part ways. Should be an easy decision when the payoff involves getting a healthy version of Newton who bottoms out as an above-average quarterback, right?
That line of thinking makes sense to us, but Belichick is unlike anyone in NFL history. Nobody can ever think like him, but looking at the situation critically, Newton's presence is about opportunity cost. Even if he came to New England and returned to something near his 2015 MVP form, Belichick wouldn't commit to him long-term as Newton enters the wrong side of 30 with a rather extensive list of injuries to pair with his physical play-style.
Newton at quarterback for 2020 alone could result in more success than any other potential iteration of the Patriots next season, but Belichick thinks two, three, five years down the road. Starting Newton means the team still doesn't know what they have in Stidham, and Newton's spot could be used for another developmental player who could turn into a valuable contributor, as Belichick has done numerous times with the 53rd roster spot. Moving enough money around to sign Newton would severely limit the team's flexibility for the rest of the offseason, and while they may not end up doing a thing with that flexibility, it's important to have.
Belichick is a believer in the process when it comes to football. Each man does his job and go from there. It seems unlikely he'd willingly go for what is ultimately a Band-Aid solution for a long-term problem. He's more inclined to trust the players he knows and the coaching staff to step up than take a risk on Newton when the team currently has very little room for error, especially when quarantine restrictions limit his ability to fully evaluate Newton.
Not pursuing the former No. 1 overall pick may ultimately prove to be a mistake, but signing him is anything but a home run. Newton in a Patriots jersey won't be coming.