For most of the past two decades, the New England Patriots had the luxury of having Tom Brady under center. That came to an end before last season when Brady departed for Tampa Bay and New England signed Cam Newton to replace him. Going from one former MVP to another seemed like a promising move, but Newton, who took a pounding during his time in Carolina, didn’t look like the same player.
With New England going nowhere, head coach Bill Belichick gave former fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham a look in a handful of blowouts with uninspiring results. Armed with the belief that neither Newton nor Stidham was a long-term solution, the Patriots used the 15th pick in April’s draft on Mac Jones, the Alabama QB who led the Crimson Tide to a National Championship last year.
Now Newton and Jones will compete for the top spot in New England, which had its 11-year run of AFC East crowns snapped in 2020. While Newton sits in the QB1 spot, the Pats’ first-round investment in Jones suggests his times is coming.
Over his first five seasons, Newton earned three Pro Bowl selections and was named MVP in 2015. In the five seasons since, however, the 32-year-old has posted a winning record just once while tossing 73 touchdowns and 54 interceptions — those are ugly numbers in an era where passing totals are up and ball security is of paramount importance.
Injuries bear at least some of the blame as the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has taken a lot of punishment. The fallout includes multiple shoulder surgeries, a fractured back, and a Lisfranc sprain that cost him all but two games in 2019 and resulted in surgery on his foot. As Indiana Jones once quipped, “It ain’t the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
Newton racked up more miles last season, running 137 times for 592 yards and 12 TDs (only three players ran for more). That salvaged a modicum of fantasy appeal as his passing exploits were dreadful: 2,657 yards, 8 TDs and 10 INTs with three of those scoring strikes coming in Week 17 against the hapless Jets.
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A mostly nondescript group of pass catchers didn’t help matters, and to that end the Patriots went out and added Hunter Henry (60-613-4), Jonnu Smith (41-448-8), Nelson Agholor (48-896-8) and Kendrick Bourne (49-667-2) in free agency. That should help the offense tremendously and potentially gives the Pats one of the best two-tight end sets in the NFL, assuming the oft-injured Henry can stay healthy.
All those things, plus another year working with OC Josh McDaniels, should help, but it’s debatable whether Newton has anything left in the tank. If the mistakes start to mount, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Belichick cut bait early on and work with Jones. That makes Newton no better than a late-round flier.
Jones’ scouting report can largely be summed up in four words: high floor, low ceiling. He was surrounded by elite talent at Alabama, including a dominant offensive line and running game, and the Crimson Tide rolled to a 13-0 mark that saw only a single game decided by one possession. Jones’ size and mobility are average, and he’s no threat to run. His arm strength is also considered merely adequate.
Where Jones excels is with the cerebral side of the game, consistently making good decisions and anticipating throwing windows. His accuracy is another plus. Jones shows the ability to thread the needle in the short and intermediate games while maintaining that accuracy with deep balls, despite a lack of zip. Jones also exhibits natural leadership and possesses a hyper competitiveness; he showed up big in the biggest spots during his brief collegiate career. … Do those traits remind you of any one former Patriot QB?
All of that suggests that Jones could be ready for the QB1 spot sooner rather than later, though we’d probably be looking at some variant of game management with McDaniels leaning on the backfield and short-passing designs. The receiving personnel backs up this notion, too, with the exception of deep threat Nelson Agholor.
Whereas some of the other notable rookie quarterbacks might be able to move the needle a bit with their legs, Jones seems likely to produce numbers more in line with what his Crimson Tide predecessor Tua Tagovailoa did in Miami last year. That leaves Jones exclusively with dynasty-league appeal.