Cam Newton was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season. He was still the most dangerous scrambling QB this side of Lamar Jackson, but he was horrific throwing the ball to an almost shocking degree.
But the New England Patriots liked what he brought to the table enough to bring him back on a one-year deal worth up to $15 million for 2021. They did hedge their bet by drafting Alabama QB Mac Jones with their first-round pick in this year's draft, though. Given where the Patriots are as a team and how brutal Newton was at times last year, it was very much in question who would be trotting out to play under center Week 1. Newton certainly had the edge coming into camp as a veteran who has a full grasp of the playbook after a year studying it, but how open of a competition will it be?
We got our answer on Saturday from Bill Belichick. When asked about the starting QB job for New England right now, the coach gave a surprisingly straight-forward answer in favor of Newton.
Along with the experience and familiarity with the offense advantage, Newton holds a further edge over Jones because of his ability to run the ball. Even if the former MVP has lost his mojo throwing the ball, having a quarterback who can run the ball as effectively as a running back is a massive strategic leg up for Josh McDaniels. It's not really how McDaniels appears to like his offense after all those years with Tom Brady, and Jones is more like Brady than he is Newton, so it didn't seem unlikely Jones could win out the gig over Newton in the summer.
But the Patriots aren't really at the stage where they want to throw the rookie into the fire unless they absolutely have to. Belichick invested an unusual amount of money into free agents this year and clearly believes their additions make New England a playoff team again. Banking on Newton's experience and dual-threat play is a more reliable option than Jones, even if the theoretical ceiling of an offense with Newton at the helm appears to be much lower than what Jones could bring to the table. "Could" is the key word there, though.
Newton has looked up and down during the early days of training camp, but no one has pads on and everyone is just getting warmed up. Unless Jones scorches the first-string defense for three weeks straight, this job is Newton's to lose.