The NFL got a lot more interesting Sunday, when the Patriots and Cam Newton agreed to terms on a one-year deal. New England needed an upside quarterback, Newton needed a team that would give him a chance to start. Bill Belichick likes to gamble on veteran players entering the prove-it parts of their careers. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they miss.
Should fantasy managers do what New England did, kick the tires on Newton? That’s a little more complicated.
Newton was a mercurial quarterback during his nine-year Carolina career, a time mixed with electric highs and soul-crushing lows. He hit the ground running in 2011, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and taking fantasy leagues by storm (QB3). The truncated preseason that summer didn’t hurt Newton one bit.
Newton eventually got Carolina to a Super Bowl, losing to Denver after the 2015 season. That was his peak as a player — the MVP award, the No. 1 fantasy quarterback (and No. 5 overall player), a 15-1 record. He threw for 35 scores that year, ran in 10 more — an immense season. But continued success was elusive for Newton and the Panthers; Carolina only had three winning seasons on his watch, and Newton never had a winning record in back-to-back years.
To be fair, wins are a team stat more than a quarterback stat, and often Newton didn’t have much help. And in the last two years, foot and shoulder injuries stopped Newton more than any defense did. Cam’s two rotten starts last year, throw them in the shredder — he wasn’t healthy. He was somewhat erratic during the 2018 season, but he still graded as the QB12, accounted for 28 total touchdown (four rushing) over 14 games.
It’s a little too convenient to immediately anoint the Patriots after this move. While the upside and the price certainly makes sense, New England doesn’t always hit on these guys. For every upside home run the Patriots found in the discount rack (names like Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, and Rodney Harrison come to mind), you can also find plenty of guys who didn’t work out — start with Antonio Brown, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. I suppose the Josh Gordon move could go in either column, depending on your grading standards.
New England’s coaching infrastructure (Belichick, OC Josh McDaniels) is a plus, but Newton will have to make do with a very ordinary set of skill players. Can you think of any NFL team that would automatically trade all of its skill talent (RB, WR, TE) for New England’s motley crew? Julian Edelman has been a great player, but he steps into an age-34 season. James White is useful, but in a support-player kind of way. Sony Michel has been a mess of injuries, dating back to his Georgia days. N’Keal Harry was a washout as a rookie, but maybe he can stay healthy and find his way in Year 2. He’ll get plenty of opportunity.
For Newton to be a useful fantasy option, he probably needs to keep running aggressively. Entering his tenth season and his age-31 year, I can’t say that’s a slam-dunk. That said, the Patriots were open to Tom Brady regularly sneaking around the goal the last two years, and Newton at his best is a physical, dish-out-the-punishment type of runner.
Of course, a decade in the league has put a lot of mileage on Newton’s body, too.
Newton will probably be a polarizing player in the fantasy community. Some pundits will quickly push him into the QB1 area, the top 12. I can’t take that leap of faith, not off a lost year and stepping into an offense that’s lacking in playmakers. I’ll probably rank Newton as an intriguing QB2 during draft season, the type of pick that’s interesting once you already have a starter in place. If that ranking doesn’t get me into the Newton business, I can live with that. And if I find myself holding the same lottery ticket that New England currently does, that’s fine as well.