The 2020 season was a disaster for Cam Newton.
After being ruthlessly cut by the Panthers, Newton signed a humbling, one-year prove-it deal with the New England Patriots. The Patriots presented an opportunity for Newton to reignite his career. In New England, Cam would be playing under the greatest head coach of all-time in Bill Belichick and work with accomplished offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
However, after missing some time after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and playing with one of the least talented rosters in recent NFL history, Newton finished the 2020 season in a worse place than when he started it.
At this point last year, signing Cam Newton was seen as a steal. Now? It’s seen as signing a back-up calibre quarterback who is a shadow of his former self.
With that in mind, there are a plethora of reasons to explain, not excuse, Cam’s play in 2020 and to prove why he’s worth taking one more shot on ahead of the 2021 season.
Last summer, ahead of his move to Tampa Bay, I had a look at Tom Brady’s final season in New England. One of the most obvious and glaring takeaways was the complete lack of talent on the Patriots offence.
Time and time again Brady was being let down by his offensive talent. His best weapons in 2019 were James White and an injured Julian Edelman. White is a fantastic and under-appreciated third-down back but should not be the focal point of a top tier NFL offence.
The Patriots headed into 2020 has not addressed these issues at all. Leaving Newton in the same position Brady was and people thought Brady was ready to retire after 2019. Flash forward to 2020 and Brady is lifting the Lombardi.
Newton was the Patriots’ second-highest rushing yards leader in 2020 with 592 yards. Newton was behind Damien Harris who accumulated 691 yards rushing in 2020.
Harris, a seventh-round selection out of Alabama, is a talented and shifty back with the potential to be a really nice third option for a lot of teams. With that said, Harris is in the same boat as James White. He’s a technically gifted player but should not be the focal point of an offence.
At the beginning of the season, we saw Josh McDaniels utilise Newton’s rushing ability to the fullest, especially in the red zone. Newton is not on the same level as Lamar Jackson in terms of quick-twitch explosiveness in space, but he is an incredibly physical force and borderline impossible to stop at the goal line.
Newton scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2020, that’s 9 more than Pats running back Rex Burkhead who ranked second on the team with 3 rushing touchdowns. This speaks to the Patriots’ dependency on Newton as well as his ability to generate offence by himself.
As we saw in Super Bowl LV, the talent surrounding the quarterback is integral to the overall success of the team. I have written about this before, but the amount of mythologising of certain quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson has led to a vast underestimation of the value of their supporting talent.
As Mahomes learnt the hard way; one player cannot overcome a multitude of issues. Sure, if a team has a weak right guard and second-string right tackle, a superstar quarterback might be able to compensate. But when your team is so thoroughly devoid of talent as the 2019 and 2020 Patriots, that is too big of an obstacle for a quarterback to overcome.
The top three receivers in terms of receiving yards for the Pats in 2020 were Jakobi Meyers (729), Damiere Byrd (604) and James White (375). The Patriots’ 2019 first-round pick, N’keal Harry, finished the season with 309 yards receiving in 14 games. Running back Rex Burkhead led the team in receiving touchdowns with 3.
Furthermore, per Sports Info Solutions, no Patriots wideout broke the top 47 receivers in the entire NFL in terms of receiving yardage or touchdowns.
No matter which way you spin it, the Patriots are in dire need of offensive firepower and have been since 2019. The lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball forced Tom Brady out of Foxborough and made life extremely difficult for Cam Newton.
On paper, Newton’s 2020 reads like a quarterback nearing the end of their career.
Newton played 15 games in 2020, missing one game in Week Four due to being diagnosed with COVID-19. During those fifteen starts, Newton threw for 2,687 yards, 8 touchdowns, 10 interceptions with a Y/A of 7.2.
However, when it came to rushing the ball in 2020, Newton showed shades of his former self.
As previously mentioned, Cam scored 12 rushing touchdowns this year. Not only does that figure see Newton rank first in rushing touchdowns on his own team, but first out of all quarterbacks in 2020.
It makes sense that Newton’s figures through the air make for painful reading. The ability to throw the ball requires a level of talent around the quarterback that just wasn’t there in New England.
When Cam could tuck the ball under his arm and make things happen with his legs – he did.
While leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns for a quarterback is impressive, the stat sheet for 2020 does read unfavourably for Newton. However, it’s worth noting that Cam was never in danger of losing his position as starting quarterback for the Patriots throughout 2020.
Now, this could speak to how demonstrably terrible Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham are as quarterbacks, yet, Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick has done nothing but praise Newton’s work ethic, leadership all while defending Cam’s lacklustre play.
At the start of the season, Belichick said to the media that Newton was “in the building more than any player on the team”. After the season ended, numerous reports emerged of Belichick praising Newton. Per the Patriots based site PatriotsWire, Belichick “does nothing but rave” about Newton.
Belichick’s first-hand experiences with the challenges Newton during 2020 would explain his positive affections for the quarterback.
Belichick realised that challenging for a Super Bowl every season for an entire decade had finally caught up with his team. That the entire outfit was devoid of any real talent – and this is what Newton had to overcome, all while being impacted by COVID-19.
Newton was not a good quarterback in 2020. Let’s make that abundantly clear. However, there is a myriad of legitimate reasons to explain, not excuse, the quarterback’s poor play this past season.
Cam Newton free agency
On the eve of free agency, the Patriots are still without a quarterback.
Newton recently appeared on former NFL veteran, Brandon Marhsall’s podcast I Am An Athlete. Newton spoke candidly about his time in New England was expressed his desire to return to the organisation.
After a season derailed by crushing opt-outs, a lack of pre-season preparation, lack of offensive talent and COVID-19 cases, it would make sense for New England to bring Newton back for one more shot at starting in the NFL.