It’s no surprise that 2020 has been a strange year for sports given the uncertainty that surrounds every major league in America.
In the midst of all of this uncertainty though, there seems to be a strange sense of “certainty” at the quarterback position, which has been a largely elusive position for teams to pick in the past.
It isn’t like every team is positive that their current quarterback is theirs of the future––many likely haven’t––but much of the teams in the NFL are in a sort of limbo state. The Redskins are a perfect example of this: first-rounder Dwayne Haskins struggled through his rookie season on a mediocre football team but managed to show improvement by the end of the year. Washington is clearly not ready to declare that they have found their future, but they aren’t exactly ready to declare the opposite.
Then there are teams like the Panthers, who seem to be using the newly-signed Teddy Bridgewater as a potential bridge to the next young quarterback. In doing so, they let go of former MVP and No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton––who remains unemployed.
The question remaining: where does this leave the former MVP in the quarterback market?
The question of whether Cam Newton still should be a starting quarterback in this has nothing to do with talent. A healthy Cam Newton was an MVP in 2015, and before getting injured in 2019, he threw for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in addition to 488 rushing yards and four rushing scores. All of this while having a 67.9 completion percentage: a far higher mark than any other season in his career.
While he’s certainly not young at the age of 31, quarterbacks like Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner, and Brett Favre have all proved that career revitalizations are completely possible. Rather than asking the question is Cam Newton a starting quarterback? we should be asking is Cam Newton healthy?
Shoulder injuries like Newton’s are tough to deal with because of their degenerative nature. While it would have been best for Newton to sit out when his shoulder first began bothering him, his pain was likely dull enough that he was able to fight through it while playing.
As he continued to play, his shoulder injury grew worse until he eventually had to sit out the final two games of the 2018 season. The most concerning development of all was before the 2019 season when reports from training camp surfaced that Newton overhauled his throwing mechanics in favor of a quicker release and shorter arm path. This is never a good sign, as it is rare to see quarterbacks completely abandon the mechanics that got them to the NFL.
Philip Rivers has made a Pro-Bowl, Hall of Fame career off of uncomfortable-looking sidearm motion. In Newton’s case, the once longer arm action that allowed him to fire the ball into tight windows downfield had now become a short, powerless delivery that was more akin to pushing the ball than throwing it. After watching tape from his two games in 2019, it is clear that this release was not only ineffective, but it looked like Newton was unable to lift his arm much beyond the height of his shoulder.
The situation is clear: If Cam Newton is healthy, he deserves to compete for a starting job. If he isn’t, then teams are probably better off waiting until he is. During the pandemic, it is obviously difficult to run physicals, so some teams might have to take a chance and sign him to a deal hoping that he shows that his shoulder is healed.
Nonetheless, there certainly are teams that could stand to make a splash for him:
The Jaguars are the best landing spot for him. While they are in the midst of a complete roster overhaul, and likely don’t want to spend money on a 31-year-old during a rebuild, it could be worth the risk if he comes cheap.
I was highly impressed by Garnder Minshew’s play last season given his draft spot, but he still does have some things left to prove. Besides, a little quarterback competition never hurts.
The Steelers recently lost out on the Jameis Winston sweepstakes despite reports that they offered him more money than the Saints. While Ben Roethlisberger might have a couple of years left, it is clear that the Steelers will need to find a new starter.
With the defense much-improved after the emergence of linebacker T.J. Watt as a star and the trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers are looking to build on last year’s surprising 8-8 campaign which was accomplished with very poor play under center.
An established quarterback like Newton would be a step in the right direction for them to become surprise contenders.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers just drafted Justin Herbert in the first round, but he is nowhere near being ready to start for an NFL franchise. The team seems content with Tyrod Taylor assuming starting the duties for now, but he struggled greatly last time he started for an NFL franchise––putting up a 64.5 passer rating through three starts for the Browns before being replaced by Baker Mayfield.
A healthy Newton would certainly be a better bridge to Herbert.
The Redskins already have Kyle Allen as a backup, but it is clear that he is not a starting quarterback in the NFL. The Redskins are committed to Dwayne Haskins for now, but he left a lot to be desired after starting half of last season.
The Redskins have the second-most cap space in the league, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to bring Newton in as competition.
The pass rush crew of Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, Matthew Ioannidis, and now Chase Young has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL, but they’re still going to need an offense to make any noise in the wide-open NFC East.
New England Patriots
This one isn’t likely, as Bill Belichick likely would not want to work with a big-personality like Newton, but the Patriots likely aren’t positive that Jarrett Stidham is the franchise’s future. With cap space running low—second lowest in the league—I simply don’t see a scenario where the Patriots free up enough to pay Newton.
Besides, after neglecting to draft a quarterback in this year’s draft, it seems that the Patriots are set with their quarterback room.