NFL

Cam Newton Isn’t the First QB With a Tough Tom Brady Act to Follow

Being the guy who replaces “the guy” can be a thankless task. Ask Gene Bartow, who went 51-10 after replacing John Wooden as men’s basketball coach at UCLA and discovered a lot of people saw that as inadequate. Luckily for Drew Benson, following Tom Brady was a tough task but not an impossible one.

Now, Cam Newton is the guy following “the guy” after signing with the New England Patriots over the weekend as the replacement for Brady, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cam Newton will be filling Tom Brady’s shoes

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Strictly speaking, Cam Newton isn’t the guy who’s following “the guy” with the New England Patriots. As durable as Tom Brady was after becoming the starting quarterback there in 2001, the Patriots had to handle two long-term absences.

Brady was injured in the 2008 NFL opener, so Bill Belichick turned to Matt Cassel. All Cassel did was complete 63.4% of his attempts, throw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns, and win 10 of 15 starts. And he did it after having thrown a total of 39 passes over the previous three seasons.

In 2016, Brady opened the season by serving his four-game suspension stemming from the Deflategate scandal in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, so Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett cobbled together a 3-1 start to the season.

Cassel, Garoppolo, and Brissett knew they were just keeping the seat warm until Brady rejoined the huddle. That’s not the case with Newton. He’s now “the guy” for Bill Belichick.

Drew Henson and Tom Brady were double trouble for Big Ten defenses

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Drew Henson was a coveted recruit in both football and baseball coming out of high school in Michigan. Besides setting several state records as a quarterback, he was a phenomenal batter who shattered national high school records for home runs (70) and RBIs (290) on his way to being selected all-state four times.

Although baseball never was far from his thoughts, Henson decided his priority was to play quarterback at the University of Michigan, and he was good enough to see some limited action behind Tom Brady as a freshman in 1998.

The 1999 season began with a platoon system. Brady played the first quarter, Henson handled the second quarter, and then coach Lloyd Carr would decide at halftime who would finish out the game. Brady won full-time duties for the second half of the season, but Henson established himself as the heir.

With Brady NFL-bound after throwing for 2,217 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior, Henson missed three early games in 2000 due to foot surgery and then came out firing. He completed 60.4% of his attempts and had 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions in leading the Wolverines to the Citrus Bowl.

However, there would be no senior season for Henson. That’s because Major League Baseball came calling.

Baseball never stopped being an option 

Drew Henson was a hot baseball prospect coming out of high school. Though MLB teams knew they would be battling the University of Michigan football program for his services, the New York Yankees took Henson in the third round of the 1998 June draft. Under NCAA rules, he was able to play summers in the Yankees’ farm system while retaining his football eligibility.

After replacing Tom Brady as a junior at Michigan, the offer was too good to resist, and Henson signed a $17 million contract with the Yankees at the expense of his remaining football eligibility.

Henson had played well the previous two summers, but was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds and then returned to the Yankees. It wasn’t until he got a taste of Class AA pitching in the tough Southern League in 2000 that he struggled a bit. Still, he showed some pop in his bat in the Triple-A International League in 2001.

With Aaron Boone and then Alex Rodriguez ahead of his in the Yankees organization, though, Henson gave up on the baseball career in early 2004 after just eight MLB games and handed $12 million back to the Yankees.

Drew Henson gives the NFL a try

Drew Henson's path to a starting job with the Dallas Cowboys was blocked by Tony Romo. | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Drew Henson’s path to a starting job with the Dallas Cowboys was blocked by Tony Romo. | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

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The Houston Texans took Drew Henson in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft and traded his rights to the Dallas Cowboys the following offseason. The 2004 season also happened to be Tony Romo’s first year in Dallas. And although Henson got on the field first as Vinny Testaverde’s back-up, albeit briefly, Romo was judged by Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones to be the future of the franchise.

The Cowboys held onto Henson for another year, then he played 2005 in NFL Europe. Getting back stateside, he bounced around before playing briefly with the Detroit Lions in 2008. The Lions’ selection of Matthew Stafford in the 2009 draft all but ended his career as an athlete.