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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Cam he, or can't he? Fan focus on Newton continues 

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Do you think there's any chance at all that some of the leaders (Matthew Slater, Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty, etc.) lobbied for the Cam [Newton] signing? Superman aside, I would think his leadership could be huge for this team, particularly after [Tom] Brady's departure. We will miss Tom dearly for his work on and off the field, but this low-risk signing should help make for an exciting season. Thanks. Benjamin Poor

Every once in a while, Benjamin, a Patriots player is asked by the media about whether or not he had any input in a particular signing of another player, with whom he already has an established relationship of some sort or who just might seem like a good fit. The standard response we get is that "players don't make personnel decisions," which would seem to absolve the existing player from taking any credit (or blame) for the move.

On the surface, this statement is true. Players play, coaches coach, and decision-makers within the organization make those decisions. I would find it truly unbelievable, though, to assume that coaches and upper management have never once asked a player for feedback or opinions about a prospective signing, even in the most general of terms. However, in the final analysis, the player doesn't dictate who gets signed and who doesn't. That's ultimately up to the coaches, general managers, and owners.

In the case of Newton, I think it's a safe bet to assume that New England's coaching and personnel departments already knew what kind of player he is and didn't require much, if any, input from existing players to pursue him. Might some players have lobbied for such a move anyway? Maybe. It's impossible to know for sure, though, as none of them would ever say so publicly. Now that he is on board, it's up to everyone on the roster to work with him in the upcoming lead-up to the regular season, in whatever form that will take. Erik Scalavino

With Cam [Newton] running the offense, I anticipate it looking a lot different to the [Tom] Brady-led offense – namely, far more plays out of shotgun, RPOs [run-pass options], and read-option plays. Do you see this style of offense benefitting any of the RBs in particular? Sony Michel ran out of shotgun frequently at Georgia, but with the Patriots was most effective in a power scheme with a lead blocker. Does this open the door for Damien Harris, who ran some shotgun at Alabama, or James White or Rex Burkhead to get more carries? Alex Marr

Frankly, if things work out the way I'm anticipating, every running back will benefit in some way from having a big, powerful, dual-threat quarterback like Newton in the backfield with them.

Michel seems to run most effectively with a fullback in front of him, and there are a couple of candidates for that job this year, but a jumbo package with Newton, Michel, a fullback-to-be-determined, and perhaps a couple of capable blocking tight ends would be a difficult matchup for any defense.

White and Burkhead could even more involved from a pass-catching standpoint, especially if Newton is forced to rely heavily on them in the early stages of learning this new offense. And Harris is an intriguing talent who's yet to showcase exactly what he can do here in Foxborough, but all the backs could be asked to contribute in RPO or read-option plays that we aren't used to seeing in New England's playbook.

However it all unfolds, it should be entertaining to watch both the quarterback position – Newton, of course, still has to win the job – and the stable of ball carriers develop their working relationship this season. Erik Scalavino

I like Cam, but I think we end up seeing both QBs [Newton and Jarrett Stidham] start at some point this year. Regardless of QB, though, are you like me in thinking this is still probably a playoff roster? Blake Norris

Ooooh, I don't like that idea at all, Blake. Barring a health reason, I don't want more than one quarterback starting games for my team. Newton, a former NFL MVP and far more experienced player than Stidham, should have the edge in their competition. If he eventually wins the job and is even close to being the player he once was, I like New England's chances of conquering the AFC East for yet another year and perhaps making some playoff noise. Stidham remains a considerable unknown commodity, so, at this point, I'd be less optimistic about the Patriots making the postseason, unless he somehow proves he's the right man to replace Tom Brady under center. Erik Scalavino

I haven't heard any talk of the possibility of franchise-tagging [QB Cam] Newton if he has a good season this year, and marketing to him to the other teams in the league. I know nobody would give up a first-round draft pick for him, but if we could pick up a second- or third-round compensatory pick for him, it seems like it might be worth the risk of being stuck with him if no one steps up to the plate to trade for him? Gary Fiske, Brattleboro/Hinsdale NH

That's certainly a possibility, Gary, as there's no clause, reportedly, in Newton's contract with New England that precludes the Patriots from assigning him their 2021 franchise tag. And if he does play as well as many of us expect him to, I'd be in favor of the team doing whatever they have to do to keep him around, whether that's the tag or working out a long-term extension. However, we have a lot more to worry about at the moment, just to get training camp started, let alone the regular season. How about we just get through 2020 first before we start thinking about 2021. Cool? Erik Scalavino

What's your opinion on how well teams will be able to evaluate players who are fighting for spots and are less well known, particularly URFAs (undrafted rookie free agents) and late-round draft picks, but also new free agents fighting for competitive spots like [WR Damiere] Byrd and [WR Marqise] Lee? With most of training camp and preseason mostly gone, do these types of players really stand a chance of being thoroughly evaluated? I was hoping the league would adjust its rules and expand practice squads temporarily to give teams a little longer to evaluate such players. Austin Evans

Well, practice squads are being expanded this season (at least 12, up from 10, and possibly16 is the new number being discussed), but your larger point is a great one. Much of the evaluation will have to take place during whatever training camp practices are able to be conducted. The league and players are still working out final details of how this will look, including the number of preseason games to be played. I think your underlying assumption is valid, though. Many of the fringe roster players will have a more difficult time than usual getting noticed this year as a result of the lack of on-field time the teams have had to work with since the spring. But that could make whatever practice sessions are in full pads even more competitive than usual. Erik Scalavino

On Monday, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey announced that it will not be allowed to have fans at any home games for the Jets and Giants [in 2020]. Probably the right move. I know as a Patriots Season Ticket Member, I deferred my tickets to 2021. How long till Gov. Baker announces the same thing here [in Massachusetts]? Gary Abrams

The Patriots will take a significant financial hit at 20-percent stadium capacity, and one option is to let go/trade some expensive vets. Would the Patriots worry more about hurting their record or valuation? Stan Cohen

During this unprecedented year, Gary, circumstances have frequently changed with dizzying speed. At the moment, the Patriots are planning on having 20-percent crowd capacity at games this season. Of course, every one of us has to be prepared for any changes that could result from pandemic-related developments. Sounds like you decided to play it safe, and no one can blame you.

Meanwhile, I think you know the answer to your own question already, Stan. In pro sports, what cures financial challenges more than winning games? Yes, if stadiums like Gillette are forced to play this season with reduced fan capacity, which seems inevitable, team revenues will suffer. But if the product on the field continues to be successful, New England will continue to position itself as one of the most profitable franchises on the planet.

In recent years, the Patriots are routinely among the top 10 most valuable sports teams on earth, keeping company with such clubs as the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, the L.A. Lakers, et al.

The Patriots aren't alone in likely having to play games without fans or with limited numbers of them. Everyone in every sport is in the same predicament. The teams that keep winning, will continue to thrive financially, one way or another, long-term. That, in my estimation, is what will be this team's top priority – winning as much as possible. Do that, and the rest will take care of itself. Erik Scalavino

The Patriots received some salary cap relief, still have needs on the defensive line, and Jadeveon Clowney is still available. There is plenty of tape of Clowney being effective in Patriots-like defenses run by the Texans. Is Clowney a possibility at all to shore up the pass rush? John Magliocca, Fort Drum, NY

Clowney's name has been rumored with a number of teams in recent days, including New England, and if the Patriots could pull off that acquisition, I'd welcome it. It's been far too long since this defense had a gifted pass rusher in its arsenal, and a player of Clowney's abilities would fill the bill quite nicely. Erik Scalavino

Can you ever see the NFL more specifically a Patriots team playing an NFL game in Australia? There are a lot of PATS fans Down Under. From all reports, the U.K. game was a success. An NFL game in Australia would be a sell-out with ANZ Stadium (Sydney) holding 80,000+ and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Melbourne) holding 90,000+. The NFL could probably bring four teams to Australia and have them play over two weekends at two venues. Lot of moving parts to consider, but would be a phenomenal event. Michael Hayes

I sure can, Michael! I can't predict when, exactly, but I expect the NFL to return to Australia at some point. Yes, I said "return," because many of you might not be aware that it's been more than 20 years since the league hosted a game in your country – the first and thus far only time such an event has taken place. On August 8, 1999, the Denver Broncos defeated their AFC West rival San Diego Chargers in a preseason game in Sydney.

The list of countries where NFL games – regular and preseason – have taken place over the decades is quite impressive, actually. Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany, and Japan are some of the other ones that might make you take notice, along with regulars like Canada, Mexico, and, of course, England, where so many preseason and regular season contests have been staged in recent years.

New England was actually supposed to play the first exhibition game in China, against the Seattle Seahawks back in 2008, but that was eventually scrapped and, instead, the Patriots played the Bucs the following season in a regular season game in London. That was the first of two successful regular season trips to the U.K. the Patriots made (the other came in 2012 against the Rams) before they went down to Mexico City to beat the Raiders in 2017.

The NFL has increasingly sought to expand its reach globally, and part of that mission is to play meaningful games in other countries. I really like the idea you've suggested, which would make sense from a time-zone standpoint, to have a mini-tournament Down Under. I've not heard any mention of Australia in any of the most recent NFL International Series discussions that have been made public, but that doesn't mean it's not being considered behind the scenes, for now.

My guess is, someday (in a post-COVID world), we'll see NFL football being played on every continent, save Antarctica. I could even envision every team having to play at least one international contest per season. Given both their successful history and sizeable fan base overseas, I'd fully expect the Patriots to be part of that. Erik Scalavino

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