Last night, we explained that the signing of quarterback Cam Newton could end up being the best of Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s many gambles. Some argue that it’s not a gamble at all, because Newton enters with a veteran minimum contract, allowing him to be released with minimal financial consequences.
While that’s correct, as it relates to the money that would be lost if Newton isn’t healthy or otherwise doesn’t fit, it’s still a gamble. Belichick is introducing one of the largest personalities in sports into the locker room, shaking the faith of Jarrett Stidham and turning the entire roster’s settled expectations for 2020 training camp onto their head. Although the pandemic necessarily unsettles anyone’s and everyone’s expectations for 2020 training camp and beyond, there’s only so much turbulence any team can take. Brady left and the offseason program unfolded with players vouching for Stidham and then, exactly one month before training camp opens, Cam Newton is on the team.
While that may energize plenty of players, the energy won’t be justified until it’s clear that Cam can be the Cam that Cam was before a shoulder injury derailed his 2018 season and a foot injury derailed his 2019 season. And while Belichick and staff have done a great job of baking the “do your job” mantra into the minds of everyone in the organization, it will be hard for them to not wonder about how Newton will do his job as the team processes the ultimate “distraction” to the task at hand.
But, remember, the “distraction” dynamic applies only to players who aren’t good enough to justify welcoming the risk that the rest of the team will lose focus. Newton is worth it, if he’s healthy and still something close to the guy who won the league MVP award five years ago.
The gamble comes from the possibility that Newton isn’t that guy anymore, that Belichick will have to eventually give the job back to Stidham, and that the team will have spent time thinking about and talking about a man who ultimately won’t become the successor to Tom Brady when everyone could have been focusing on the fact (as they’ve been for nearly four months) that Stidham will be the guy to replace Brady at the most important position on the field. If it doesn’t work, the disruption to the Patriot Way will make it harder for the team to be what it would have been if Newton hadn’t been signed.