Bill Belichick may in fact be confident in the abilities of Jarrett Stidham, but it doesn't look like he's ready to turn things over to the kid just yet. According to ESPN, the Patriots have reached an agreement with Cam Newton on a one-year, incentive-laden deal.
Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, now joins Stidham and Brian Hoyer atop the quarterback depth chart for the right to replace Tom Brady.
After reading multiple stories and listening to countless reports indicating how excited Belichick and the Patriots were about Stidham this offseason, it would appear that Newton will be the man to take the reins from Brady after all. Assuming he's healthy – and that's a large assumption – Newton represents a major upgrade at the game's most important position and reestablishes the Patriots as the favorites in the AFC East.
Newton hasn't played a lot of football over the last two seasons due to shoulder and foot problems that have limited him to 16 games combined in 2018 and 2019, and just two a year ago. But when healthy, Newton is a dynamic force as both a runner and passer. Those abundant skills were on full display for the Panthers in 2015 when he threw for 35 touchdowns, ran for another 10 and led Carolina to a 15-1 record and a trip to the Super Bowl.
It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels caters the offense around his multi-dimensional skills. The Patriots really haven't had a quarterback with his running ability, certainly not in the Belichick era, and zone reads and power running from that position haven't been a part of team's attack. Again, if Newton is healthy it would appear that the offense will at least feature some of the diversity that he brings.
The question now is, will he have enough weapons to work with? Julian Edelman remains the top target with second-year wideout N'Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, free agent additions Marqise Lee and Damiere Byrd as well as second-year man Jakobi Meyers all fighting for roles on the depth chart.
Despite this being an exceptionally deep receiver class, the Patriots did not draft a wideout in the spring and instead went heavy on rookie free agents. The team did add a pair of intriguing tight end prospects in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, so the potential for improvement offensively exists.
But this all depends on Newton's ability to stay on the field. Schefter indicated that Newton had a physical in Atlanta March 23 and the 31-year-old "checked out well." His rehab has continued throughout the offseason after a Lisfranc injury originally suffered during a preseason loss to the Patriots last summer cost him all but two games in 2019.
Although he's never been considered elite in terms of accuracy – he's topped 62 percent for a season just once in his nine years – Newton provides hope. With Stidham or Hoyer, New England seemed destined for a rebuilding season at best as Belichick attempts to overturn an aging roster.
It's possible that plan was scrapped due to the complications and restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically altered the offseason and will continue to wreak havoc well into the summer. Belichick may not feel comfortable with the amount of prep work he can get a young quarterback, so having a veteran of Newton's status gives the Patriots a chance to compete in 2020 while giving Stidham – or some other young quarterback who has yet to arrive – more time to develop.
"I'm never shocked with anything we do as a Patriots organization," veteran safety Devin McCourty said on his Double Coverage podcast Sunday night. "I'm never surprised when we're trying to make the team better."
There is no doubt the Patriots got better by signing Newton. Now it's a matter of making sure he's healthy to determine just how much better New England can be.