As the weeks go on, and with the draft – and five first-round quarterbacks – approaching with the NFL hellbent on holding its selection process this month, it's difficult not to ponder a football world in which Cam Newton is a backup quarterback.
The already glutted QB market is about to become even more oversaturated after seven rounds of the draft, and the landscape for Newton, and Jameis Winston (and Andy Dalton once he is let go) looks pretty bleak. The Patriots and Chargers – who have the most overt need at this position – are displaying no inclination to break anyone's fall at this point, and they will be among the teams looking heavily at QBs in the draft. If those teams are not willing to walk out there and set the market for Newton or Winston, then teams like the Skins and Raiders aren't going to wade into those waters yet, either.
There is always the possibility that a top starting quarterback on a quality team gets hurt this offseason, but with it virtually certain there will not be organized team activities and spring practices as we have come to know them, the odds decrease. Maybe someone slips in their backyard or drops a couch on themselves in their garage … but with so many gyms closed and players not allowed to congregate as they normally would on fields for group work, it may require a household accident of some sort for a need to develop.
Which means, perhaps, the 2015 NFL MVP and the league's passing yardage leader from 2019 might both be holding a clipboard whenever NFL football resumes. I find it hard to get my head around this, myself, and believe these two would be an upgrade over several teams' current quarterback situation, but here we are. And things might not get much better.
There is potential that these two guys find themselves where someone like Teddy Bridgewater was a year ago, and the best option might be landing with a strong team and a great coach to be a top insurance policy if the starter goes down. It may be that they have to take a significant financial hit in 2020 to hopefully relaunch themselves into a more normal QB market and, we all hope, a more normal planet, come January of 2021.
I still find it strange to even have to type those words. And I see no reason why you wouldn't want a Winston or Netwon in Foxborough or Inglewood in 2020, giving a kid like Jared Stidham or Justin Herbert a year to watch and learn. Especially with their price point seemingly in a free fall. But if those teams are truly going to shun them into May and beyond, then I would turn my focus to six franchises that might be able to have the most to offer these quarterbacks in the short term.
What about Cam Newton backing up Lamar Jackson? How friggin' wild would that be? You don't think Greg Roman could concoct some seriously outside-the-box personnel groupings to get them on the field at the same time along with Mark Ingram and Hollywood Brown (and whatever twitchy wide receiver the Ravens grab on the second day of the draft)? How sick would that look? People want to hate on Cam and say his ego is too big or whatever … well, him mentoring Lamar for a year and subjugating himself a bit might help shut them up. Newton would be a massive upgrade over RG3, and for a franchise in Super Bowl-or-bust mode, you'd better have an elite backup QB should Jackson have to miss 4-6 weeks.
The Eagles should be thinking in these terms, too. No way they can go into the season with Nate Sudfeld behind Carson Wentz. Not with Wentz's proclivity to miss games. Not with the stakes being this high for Philadelphia. Joe Flacco would make a helluva lot of sense, too, here. But if I can get Newton for, who knows, $7M a year? $10M? I'm doing it. Add in a voidable year or two to lower the cap hit. What am I missing here? Why wouldn't a good team jump all over this? I can recall, not that long ago, faux starters like Brock Osweiler getting $18M a year guaranteed for two years, and the Broncos and Texans in a bidding war for his services. And now no one would trade a seventh-round pick for Newton with one year and $19M left on his deal? I get there may be some medical concerns, but the trade would always be incumbent on him passing a physical, anyway. If pretend QB1s were going for $18M BEFORE the cap started exploding, what Super Bowl contender wouldn't try to get in on this now?
The Steelers found out the hard way that Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph are not the answer at QB anytime soon. They have a 38-year old franchise QB who looks like Yukon Cornelius and is coming off major elbow surgery and has taken a lot of hits over the years, and did not look good the 1.5 games he played last year. I'd be trying to get one of these guys behind him, ASAP, even in a cap crunch.
The Saints saw firsthand how massively important the backup QB can be, with Bridgewater running the table while Drew Brees was out with a thumb injury. It kept them in contention for the top seed – which is the way to get a playoff bye now. Yeah, Taysom Hill is their next guy, but they need him in that jack-of-all trades role, and not dropping back 35 times a game if Brees gets hurt. One of these two guys in the role Bridgewater was in last year may be even more important this year. If you follow.
The Seahawks have nothing behind Russell Wilson right now, and Russ is that franchise. He has been impervious to injury – remarkably so – but nothing lasts forever. Losing him for even a few games could be the difference between winning the division and missing the postseason entirely. I'd be all about bringing one of these guys to the Pacific Northwest.
The Packers have seemed downright philosophically opposed to having a QB of any ability or stature behind Aaron Rodgers – I'd suggest a rethink on that.
Winston and Newton may not, understandably, want to embrace this reality just yet. I'd be reluctant to do so, as well. But if I was a GM with the Ravens or Eagles or Steelers or Saints or Patriots, I would be making a daily sales pitch and trying to sweet talk their reps into signing us me when the dust eventually settles. I would be recruiting Winston and Newton like my season depended on it, because in the end it just might.
And over time, the prospect of being with a winning team in a positive environment able to contribute to a quality franchise might make more sense than waiting to see if a guy like Herbert or Dwayne Haskins can't do the job. With no OTAs to learn a new offense and be there for the installation, in a one-year prove it scenario, maybe it's best to go someplace where you won't have to compete from Day One, but can take the preseason – however condensed it might be – to get your feet under you.
If this is going to be the new normal for these quarterbacks – at a time when nothing is normal – I'd be researching the Ravens and Eagles and Steelers and Saints and Seahawks and Packers. I'd be willing to take the financial hit and take less from a potentially special team to attempt to better my lot in 2021. It shouldn't have to come to this, but it's time to start preparing as if it might.