Cam Newton faces a pivotal training camp as the incumbent starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, but he’s facing doubts about his own abilities. These doubts aren’t exactly surfacing at the most ideal of times.
The Patriots used the No. 15 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on former Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones. It is likely Newton still has a leg up on Jones as Patriots training camp gets underway on Wednesday, but there are some questions about his apparently diminishing abilities.
Some inside New England’s locker room don’t seem to believe Newton still has the “S” on his chest. Can he go out and prove everyone wrong?
Cam Newton produced mixed results in his first season with the New England Patriots
It’s hard to really glean too much from Newton’s first season in New England.
The Patriots did not sign the former league MVP until late June of 2020. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels then had just over a month to devise an entirely new scheme after building an offense around a pocket quarterback in Tom Brady.
Newton’s surface numbers don’t look too bad. He completed 65.8% of his passes and averaged a respectable 7.2 yards gained per pass attempt. The three-time Pro Bowler also rushed for 592 yards and 12 scores. However, Newton amassed just eight passing touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
A deeper dive further illustrates Newton’s struggles. His 47.0 total quarterback rating (QBR) was the lowest such mark of his career over the course of a full season. The 11.0 yards gained per pass completion was the second-lowest mark of his career.
The improved accuracy and fairly clean bill of health were good signs for Newton. Still, he struggled on quick-hit passing actions and had a hard time helping the Patriots consistently move the ball. The dynamism he displayed earlier in his career only came in brief glimpses.
Teammates wonder whether that dynamism will ever return in full force.
Patriots teammates question whether Newton can be the elite signal-caller of old
Though it initially appeared unlikely the Patriots would bring Newton back for a second season, they ultimately re-signed him. The nature of the contract, however, seemingly left the door open for competition.
Newton’s deal has a $5 million base value, with $9 million in incentives.
The structure indicated New England’s willingness to let Newton prove his worth and also gave the Patriots flexibility if he were replaced under center. Some in the locker room reportedly do not feel Newton has it in him to show his quality.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported “multiple current teammates” do not feel Newton can recapture his previous form. It would be hard for someone with Newton’s injury history to get back to basics, especially considering his archetype as a mobile quarterback. That said, the report seems to allude to Patriots players having an open mind about Jones being the starter.
Not everyone in the Patriots organization feels this way. Head coach Bill Belichick apparently saw enough from Newton to bring him back for another season. New Patriots edge rusher Matt Judon said last week he expected big things from Newton, per Boston.com.
Still, it’s apparent the quarterback competition will begin in earnest on Wednesday. Newton knows it, too.
Newton understands he has to earn the starting job
Cam Newton is not naive. He understands Mac Jones was drafted to be the future (and perhaps the right now) of the quarterback position in New England.
Newton said earlier this month he views 2021 as a “put up or shut up” season, per ESPN‘s Mike Reiss. He knows he has something to prove and should have even more motivation with his own teammates rumored to be expressing doubts about his capabilities.
The Patriots will likely give Jones every opportunity to push for the starting job. Still, a hungry Newton will attempt to don the Superman cape once again.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.