In one of the most sensible moves of the offseason, the New England Patriots and Cam Newton worked out an agreement that will keep the former league MVP in Foxborough for another year.
Newton, according to multiple reports, will earn close to $14 million in this new deal, which marks an increase of last year’s deal that featured a base salary of $1.05 million with a load of incentives.
Last season, Newton and the Patriots joined forces with much to prove. Newton, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft and 2015 NFL MVP, aimed to show the Carolina Panthers were wrong to write him off while rebuilding the franchise. Bill Belichick and the Patriots, meanwhile, aimed to show they could still contend for championships without Tom Brady.
Instead, Newton and the Patriots endured a turbulent and disappointing 2020 campaign, and as a result, each seeks redemption. And now they’ll embark on that quest together once again.
Newton’s 2020 season included on- and off-field struggles. But if anything, the way he handled those struggles only made him an even more attractive choice as the 2021 QB for the Patriots.
Despite signing with New England late in the summer and not having the luxury of an offseason acclimation process, Newton got off to an electrifying start last season. His play seemed to forecast a return to his top form after two injury-plagued seasons in Carolina.
But Newton then had his season interrupted by a bout with COVID-19 and missed the Patriots’ fourth game. Upon his return, Newton never quite looked the same. He remained a threat with his legs, rushing for 12 touchdowns. However, Newton struggled with consistency as a passer and concluded the year with just eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
During the season, Newton never made excuses, saying only that he needed to do better. However, in his one extensive interview that he has given this offseason, Newton provided further insight on his struggles when speaking with former NFL players Brandon Marshall, Fred Taylor and Chad Johnson on the I AM ATHLETE podcast.
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“When I came back, that’s where the lack of an offseason and the lack of time in the system really showed itself,” he said. “I was behind and I was thinking too much. The offense kept going and I was stagnant for two weeks. It was all new terminology. I wasn’t just trying to learn a system for what it was, I was learning a 20-year system in two months.”
Newton added, “They threw everything at me, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. At the end of the day, you have to go through things in that type of manner, to show yourself that you can’t skip processes. I’d be the first person to tell you that I needed time.”
Newton’s shortcomings garnered public criticism over his ability to play at a high level, as well as questions about his arm strength. Meanwhile, Patriots coach Bill Belichick routinely was asked if he considered benching Newton. However, Belichick continued to express support of Newton and praise him for his work ethic. And to be fair, all of New England’s offensive struggles can’t be pinned on Newton. New England fielded a subpar cast of receivers and tight ends, which only further complicated matters.
The Patriots concluded the year with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons.
Newton, who turns 32 in May, entered the offseason with a great deal of uncertainty hanging over him. However, New England found itself in the same boat. They lack an apparent upgrade option over Newton, and they currently have no long-term contingency plan at quarterback.
The resilience and grit that Newton displayed last season, and his refusal to make excuses earned him even more respect within the Patriots’ organization. As a result, people within the league believed that he had a good chance of re-signing with New England.
Earlier this week, Jedd Fisch, Newton’s quarterbacks coach in New England last season and now the coach at the University of Arizona, told reporters he believed Newton would benefit from a return to the Patriots. Then on Friday, upon seeing the news, Fisch tweeted, “So Happy to See this! @CameronNewton is a special person and a great player. Can’t wait to watch him excel this season!”
Familiarity should position Newton for improved production in 2021. It remains unclear if teams will be permitted to hold offseason practices. But having played a full season in the system, he no longer is learning on the fly. Meanwhile, the Patriots enter the league year, which opens next Wednesday, with more than $65 million in cap space, according to Spotrac, and is positioned to upgrade the offense both through free agency and the draft.
Newton’s presence also gives the team additional time to address their long-term picture at quarterback.
Belichick could have easily overreacted to the struggles exhibited by Newton and his offense last season and sought another option at quarterback. But instead, after assessing the situation and how Newton handled the adversity of his first season in New England, the coach saw the benefits of betting on the quarterback once again significantly outweighed the risk of embarking on this year’s quest for redemption without him.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.