The last potential game-changing free agent left as the NFL offseason continues toward training camp signed Sunday, as former MVP Cam Newton agreed to join the Patriots on an incentive-laden deal. The move has the potential to push the Patriots back to the top of the AFC following the departure of Tom Brady to the Buccaneers, and it has obvious Fantasy ramifications, too.
At his best — and healthiest — Newton was a force for Fantasy, finishing as the No. 1 QB in 2014 and a top-10 option in five of his seven other seasons; he had another season where he was top 10 in points per game, to boot. Over his first eight seasons, Newton averaged 23 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns per season, including two in double digits.
Once upon a time, there would be no question Newton would be stepping into a starting role here, with just Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham standing in his way; the Patriots would already be drawing up designs for their next Super Bowl ring. However, after shoulder injuries ended his 2018 and his 2019 was ruined by a foot injury, there are real questions about whether Newton is physically capable of being that player anymore.
The problem is, Newton has derived so much of his real life and Fantasy value from his rushing ability, which allowed him to make plays when the pocket broke down while also serving as his team's primary goal-line back. The last time we saw him, however, Newton ran the ball just five times for -2 yards in two games in 2019 and had just 25.6 yards per game and no touchdowns in his final nine games in 2018, too. So, Newton will have to prove he's healthy enough to be that dominant rusher again, or he's going to have to prove he can be a good enough passer to make up for it otherwise.
There are, of course, reasons to be optimistic about both, despite how many might be pessimistic.
Newton's physical running style took its toll, but he'll enter 2020 having played just two games in the last 21 months, so he'll be as fresh as he possibly can be. The foot is a serious question, but if it checks out, Newton can hopefully still be a valuable contributor on the ground, even if the days of 700-plus yards and double-digit touchdown upside are gone.
If the rushing isn't there, the floor is a lot lower for Newton's Fantasy value, but he was looking as good as he arguably ever has as a passer before the shoulder injuries in 2018. Through the first 12 games of the season, Newton had completed 69.5% of his passes for 2,999 yards and 24 touchdowns, giving him a 7.5 Y/A and 6.0% touchdown rate, which would have been good for the third and second-best marks of his career.
And Newton will probably have to look something like the peak version of himself to really be a Fantasy difference maker on an offense that looked lifeless for most of 2019 even with Brady. Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu are the biggest names returning from last year's offense, but at this point, neither is the type of player we should expect to really elevate a quarterback with his play making abilities. N'Keal Harry could prove to be that guy, and this certainly helps his sleeper appeal; however, after a rookie season sidetracked by injuries, he'll have to prove himself before you trust in it. Still, Newton-plus-Harry should be one of your top late-round target combinations, because the upside for both is off the charts.
Ultimately, this is an upside move with very little risk for the Patriots, and the same is true for targeting Newton in Fantasy drafts, especially those picking before training camps open. If Newton looks great in training camp and secures the job early, expect his price to jump into the top 10 at quarterback; if you get the chance to buy early, the value will be even better.
Still, even if Newton's price does end up climbing into the top 100 overall, there's going to be plenty of upside beyond that. At his best, he is one of the best Fantasy quarterbacks in the league, and if I'm waiting for that position, I'd rather roll the dice on Newton turning the clock back than bet on the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Daniel Jones for 2020.
What it means for the rest of the Patriots
This probably isn't great news for Edelman, who has drawn so much of his value from earning a ton of short targets from Brady. At this point, he's a 34-year-old with a long injury history who needs a high target volume he isn't at all assured to see, as Newton's rushing ability could take some of those shorter targets off the board.
The same is likely true of Sanu, who was largely a non-factor after joining the Patriots. If you're looking for hope from this passing game, it comes in the form of Harry, the second wide receiver drafted in 2019 who carries a strong athletic profile and a track record of production in college, despite his forgettable rookie season. He was one of the best late-round sleepers you could find at the position already, and this only makes him more enticing.
Neither Hoyer nor Stidham had any value in Fantasy outside of 2QB or Superflex leagues, and this drives them further down the ranks. If one of them does manage to beat out Newton, they'll be in that conversation again, but not a second sooner.