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Let’s pretend that it’s 2016 for a moment. Cam Newton is still a member of the Carolina Panthers; he’s just led the club to the Super Bowl, been named Offensive Player of the Year, and taken home the NFL MVP title. Had the star quarterback hit free agency then and there, he could have commanded a truly massive contract. In 2020, however, things were a bit different.

As we all know, Newton hit the open market and failed to garner much interest before joining the New England Patriots for pennies on the dollar. On Monday night, however, the quarterback proved his worth without even taking the field.

Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn’t play

On paper, the meeting between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs was supposed to be a marquee matchup, featuring great coaches and exciting quarterbacks. In reality, though, Cam Newton never made it to Kansas City.

On Saturday, news broke that Newton had tested positive for COVID-19. While it briefly looked like the game would be in danger, everyone in New England received a clean bill of health; the club then flew into Kansas City on Monday morning, played the game that evening, and headed back home after the final whistle.

At this point, it’s not exactly clear when Cam can return to action. Although the NFL has laid out specific guidelines for this scenario, many pertinent details aren’t publically known. If Newton was asymptomatic, for example, he could potentially rejoin the roster within five days; if he has shown symptoms, however, he’ll have to spend a minimum of 10 days on the sidelines.

The Patriots should have beaten the Chiefs, but quarterbacks cost them

Given the loss of Cam Newton and the unusual travel circumstances, it would have been understandable if the New England Patriots headed into Kansas City, gave it their all, and fell short of victory. While the final result was ultimately what most fans expected, the performance itself was quite a bit different.

Although the final scoreline makes it look like the Chiefs cruised to victory, the visiting team probably should have won the game. Patrick Mahomes could have been intercepted on a number of occasions; he also seemed to have fumbled on another, but the officials had already blown the play dead.

Perhaps the most painful part of the defeat for Patriot fans, though, is that better quarterback play could have changed the result. Brian Hoyer, who got the start in Cam Newton’s place, cost New England at least six points; with the offense in field goal range, he fumbled the ball on one occasion and took a sack, allowing the clock to run out, on another.

Although Jarrett Stidham looked better in relief, he threw two interceptions; one of those was Julian Edelman’s fault, but it still ends up on the quarterbacks’ stat line.

Cam Newton proved his worth without even taking the field

It goes without saying that there are no positives to a COVID-19 diagnosis; Cam Newton’s health, both immediately and in the long-term, comes before everything else. Purely from a football perspective, though, Monday night proved just how valuable the quarterback can be.

While we’ll never know what would have happened if Newton took the field against the Chiefs, it’s tough to be anything other than optimistic. The Patriots were hanging tough, even with some brutal quarterback errors. If you assume that Cam doesn’t fumble the ball in the third quarter and manages the clock at the end of the first half, that puts at least six more points on the board; beyond that, it’s impossible to know how much more he would have brought to the offense.

After the quarterback’s hot start to the season, Mike Lombardi took to WEEI and said that Newton could easily be a $25 million quarterback next season. Barring any freak injuries or late-season collapses, that number could have just gotten even bigger. Monday Night showed the risks of relying on Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham; short of somehow drafting Trevor Lawrence or landing Dak Prescott if he hits free agency, it’s tough to see the Patriots willingly heading into 2021 without Cam. At this point, they’ll simply have to pay him.

On Monday Night, Cam Newton was self-isolating, rather than hitting the field with the New England Patriots. His absence, however, probably ended up helping his bottom line.