SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon contacted NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to get the union’s response to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson’s impromptu practices with teammates. An act that they strongly discouraged before the Training Camp. USA TODAY
Bill Belichick could have done it again: he found a way to trick his opponents with another low-risk, high-reward move that the rest of the league was afraid to make.
Cam Newton has a list of questions to answer, but if he is able to do so, the acquisition of the former NFL MVP by New England may seem like a stroke of genius by the end of the year.
This union, of course, is not surprising. Everyone and his brother started fantasizing when Tom Brady left for Tampa and the Carolina Panthers sent Newton to pack in a seven-day period in late March.
It made a lot of sense – for both sides.
Newton, the former league player, now sports a huge chip in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Meanwhile, Belichick enters the 2020 season with a similar motivation.
Both were counted. Both had their last rites read.
The Panthers eliminated Newton despite a nine-season job that included four playoff appearances, a trip to the Super Bowl and an MVP campaign.
The NFL world discounted Belichick and his Patriots after Brady’s departure, disregarding his legendary resume and six Lombardi trophies.
Newton’s critics believe that nine seasons of strokes rendered his six-foot-five frame virtually useless. Critics of Belichick and the Patriots eagerly anticipate their demise as younger, more explosive teams overtake them.
But here they are – Newton and Belichick – both stubbornly embracing the next challenge, instead of setting out for sunset.
Both can reap beautiful rewards for their patience.
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Cam Newton joins the Patriots after nine seasons with the Panthers. (Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)
Newton suffered a three-month wait on the open market, as coronavirus restrictions prevented him from visiting teams and performing physical examinations to prove the solidity of the shoulder and foot injuries that reduced his 2019 season to just two games.
But he couldn’t have asked for a better situation in a quarterback scenario that has dramatically changed that off season.
Where else would he go? For Chargers, whose coaches are the best in Tyrod Taylor and used the sixth overall choice to summon Justin Herbert from Oregon? Follow Ron Rivera to Washington, where the property is heavily invested in sophomore Dwayne Haskins? Las Vegas, to compete with Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota? Jacksonville, where a proven quarterback is needed, but would Newton’s style conflict with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden?
None of these reconstruction projects would have translated into the career revival that Newton is both aiming for and able to achieve, if healthy.
New England, however, offers almost everything Newton could ask for.
Ingenious offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who made faces like Jacoby Brissett and Tim Tebow (in Denver) look like quarterbacks of the caliber of the playoffs.
The three-headed attack and the gathering of young people, developing wide receivers.
The support of a consistently formidable defensive attack and special teams.
A locker room full of leaders to lighten your load.
Most importantly, a coach, who is not afraid to defy conventionality, takes chances on the tailings and reconfigures his team’s identity, depending on the team’s strengths.
For Newton, the table is essentially defined. He doesn’t even have to start the first day.
Of course, as a fierce competitor, he doesn’t want to be part of a backup function. And if you believe in the countless exercise videos he shared on social media, Newton is back to 100% and in great shape. But if your body requires a slower-than-expected reaclimation process, or if it needs more than a training camp and preseason to feel comfortable with the New England manual and terminology, the Patriots could count on Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham in the first weeks of the regular season.
It will be interesting to see how McDaniels adapts the offense to Newton’s strengths. In recent years, New England has become a more race-oriented team to ease the pressure on aging Brady. McDaniels’ emphasis on shorter passes and time routes will also help to reduce wear and tear on Newton’s shoulder, as well as protecting a body that has long been subject to abuse, thanks to the quarterback’s fearless style of play.
Having played for four different managers over nine seasons, Newton saw a lot. And the determination to prove your critics wrong will increase your appetite while learning another system. At this point, Newton is apparently ready to commit an offense and choose his places for interpretations outside the script in a more judicious way.
If that happens, Belichick and the Patriots will be greatly rewarded for that bet.
They have been here before, of course, although not in the position of defender. But Belichick has a long history of gold in recovery projects. Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Corey Dillon, Aqib Talib, Wes Welker … The list goes on.
Newton now has a chance to be next, because Belichick has sufficient confidence in his own leadership, in the Patriot Way and in his team’s ability to maximize the talent of players that other teams were too afraid to touch.
Belichick really has nothing to lose here. Financially, the $ 7.5 million Newton deal is a bargain. And when it comes to expectations, most had already written the New England obituary for the 2020 season.
The Patriots were already prepared to sail the year with the unproven Stidham and the Hoyer traveler. Why not see if Newton can regain his form from the top 10 and position his new team for yet another AFC East title fight?
The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Belichick and Newton would not be right for each other in 2011, or even in 2015, when Cam displayed his megawatt smile and did his Superman flex after every big move. But now, a humble and hungry Newton is prepared to reinvent himself and prolong his career. Now, Belichick has experienced the terrors that a fighting defender can cause even the most formidable defense, and is ready to embrace the football brand that is dominating the NFL.
The team’s architectural mentor, Belichick went offseason to reshape his team to better support the quarterback and make up for any shortcomings that Stidham and Hoyer exhibited. This squad can certainly take a break from Newton’s superior talents.
Therefore, New England does not need Newton to be the Super Cam, as the Panthers and their talent-deficient squads have done all these years. If Belichick and Co. can simply acquire Cyborg Cam, AFC East can be acquired.
The payoff for such a minimal investment can be great for all parties involved. A successful year could translate into a good payday in 2021 and a second long act for Newton, and for Belichick, this year could lay the groundwork for the next chapter in the coach’s historic reign.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.
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