Newton, 31, signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal worth up to $7.5 million, league sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.
The structure of the contract, as well as Newton’s injury-ruined 2019 campaign followed by a lengthy wait to sign a contract, suggest he cannot be considered a lock to start ahead of second-year Jarrett Stidham. Patriots’ NFL Nation reporter Mike Reiss agreed, noting that both Newton and Stidham are wild cards and that he views it as “a true open competition.”
So, the question is, how do we adjust our thinking in fantasy?
Mike Clay’s fantasy outlook: For now, I’m projecting Newton for 13 starts and Stidham for three. That would assume a healthy Newton wins the competition, but it also hedges for both injury and the possibility that he simply isn’t the same player he was during his prime.
New England has called a pass-first offense during 11 of the past 13 seasons, but the tea leaves suggest a switch to a run-first attack in 2020. Those leaves include the Newton signing, the league’s heaviest financial investment in the guard position and a pair of third-round draft picks spent on tight ends. This likely conversion obviously takes away some appeal from top pass-catchers Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, James White and Mohamed Sanu Sr., though that’s mostly offset by a much more attractive quarterback depth chart.
That might seem like an odd thing to say about a quarterback more known for his rushing ability than his arm, but keep in mind that Newton had arguably his best season as a passer the last time he was healthy. During that 2018 campaign with the Carolina Panthers, Newton was more conservative (career-low 7.3 yards for average depth of throw), but that led to a career-high 68% completion percentage and a solid 7.2 YPA. Newton was still an effective rusher that season (488 yards and four touchdowns on 101 attempts in 14 games) and finished in the top eight in fantasy points per game for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Last season was a different story, as a preseason foot injury limited Newton to two games. Newton was not the same player, carrying the ball only five times for negative-2 yards after ranking no lower than fourth among QBs in rushing attempts, yardage and touchdowns in each of the previous eight seasons.
Prior to 2019, Newton had missed only five of 128 possible games since entering the league, though it’s fair to wonder if 929 carries during the span have taken a toll.
All that being said, Newton very much needs to be on your radar as an upside flier in fantasy drafts. There’s a reasonable chance that a healthy Newton — who offers a very high floor because of his rushing ability, working with an elite coaching tandem of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels — can quickly rejoin the QB1 conversation. Even better, his average draft position is unlikely to get out of control considering the aforementioned question marks and the many safer options at the position. If Newton doesn’t win the job or struggles, you can easily cut bait with minimal value lost. However, if he returns to form, you have yourself a steal.
As for the other members of the New England offense, I’m not moving the needle much. Edelman, White and Sony Michel are fine mid-round targets, with Harry and Damien Harris intriguing late-round fliers. The tight ends can be ignored, as can Stidham, who should be on rosters only in two-QB and dynasty leagues.
2020 Cam Newton 13-start projection: 269-of-432, 2,972 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs, 71 carries, 358 yards, 3 TDs.
Stephania Bell’s health outlook: Heading into the 2019 season, the Panthers weren’t worried about Newton’s shoulder injury that had caused him to miss the final two games of the 2018 campaign and required surgery. He had rehabbed diligently, worked on the little things to help make him a better thrower (especially better than the one he had been when the shoulder was not cooperating, which had forced him to literally torque the rest of his body to try to deliver the ball). He entered 2019 making all the throws in practice that he would need to make in a game.
Of course, once he injured his left foot, he was never the same. Even though it was a stable, midfoot injury and therefore appeared as if it would get better with time, it ultimately did not. Newton opted for surgery, undergoing a modified (less complex) Lisfranc procedure. Given the coronavirus pandemic, all we have to go by as far as his workouts is Newton’s Instagram account, but that actually gives a pretty good indication that his foot is fully recovered.
Will Newton be able to put it all together on the field? I don’t see why not. He’s certainly out to prove that he has still got it, and the recovery time from not playing the majority of last season undoubtedly helps. Will he hold up? That’s much tougher to answer, because the Cam we know only plays one way — and that physical contact combined with his history makes him a higher risk than if he were 10 years younger.