Forgive me, but it's hard for me to keep a straight face with this Patriots quarterback charade.
From the moment news broke in late June that Cam Newton would sign with the Patriots, he became the starting quarterback in New England. Bill Belichick's Patriots are a meritocracy on the field, and a healthy Newton provides the head coach the best chance to win football games. Full stop.
The idea of platooning Newton and Jarrett Stidham, a young quarterback the Patriots like but are well aware is inferior to Newton, was floated this week. Belichick didn't shoot it down, which gave the narrative breath. But Belichick sounds much more like a college sophomore explaining society's endless possibilities than he does a coach sure to play two quarterbacks against the Dolphins on Sept. 13.
"Yeah, it might [make sense]," Belichick said about the platoon. "Look, I always say I'll do what I think is best for the team, what gives us the best chance to win. Whatever that is, I would certainly consider that. If it's run an unbalanced line or double-unbalanced line or 23 personnel or whatever it is. If it helps us win, then I would consider anything."
The Pats aren't just going to hand the keys over to Newton, and I think the quarterback knows that. He's willing to work for it because he has a lot to prove after being dumped by Carolina and signing a cheap deal through gritted teeth.
Patriots OC Josh McDaniels has been working tirelessly since June trying to figure out what works and what doesn't for Newton in his system. He called some of Newton's former coaches to get additional insights on the 31-year-old. If he's healthy, Newton will get the nod.
And that's the main point: Newton's health. A source close to Newton pointed out to me the number of hits Newton has saved himself from with his time off. Newton has played in just two regular-season games since mid-December of 2018, so he's more or less had a year and a half off from football. Even in the age where quarterbacks play well into their 40s, I don't think anyone has assumed Newton would make it to that point because of the way he plays the game and the hits he absorbs.
Multiple sources I've spoken to have said if they're concerned about any Newton injury, it's his shoulder far more than his foot. Newton had surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury back in December, and that came after months of trying to avoid going under the knife again. His two shoulder surgeries came in March 2017 and January 2019, and I've been closing monitoring his throwing since.
Carolina's 6-2 start in 2018 and Newton's revival under Norv Turner masked his struggles to throw deep. He had trouble with his deep ball throughout training camp, and he attempted just 2.9 passes of 20-plus yards per game through the team's first eight games. Folks pointed to a T.J. Watt hit in Week 9 as a turning point in his season -- and I'm sure the hit didn't make his arm feel better -- but after that he was still attempting 2.8 passes of 20-plus yards per game.
And in just two games in 2019, Newton couldn't throw to the right side of the field. Could it have been the broken foot? Perhaps. But he completed just 40 percent of his passes to the right in those two losses, which is so below average it's statistically significant in my view.
So at 31 and a year away from contact, Newton should feel extremely refreshed. The ball is spinning off his hand right now, and it probably will throughout camp. Frankly, it should be. But the test will be how his arm is faring come November as the hits pile up and the weather gets colder. I'm not saying his arm will fall off, but the close inspection of his spirals isn't really necessary right now.
There was also a strange idea that Belichick wouldn't let Newton be himself, and videos of the quarterback dancing at practice are being used as proof against an argument that should have never been made in the first place.
The idea has always been that if all is well and the team is winning, Newton will be dancing and no one will care. But how will Newton take hard coaching if they're losing? How will he deal with boos from a Foxborough crowd that has been conditioned to conference championship or bust after his entire career was played for a franchise that's never had consecutive winning seasons?
Everyone wants the answers right now on Newton and New England. It's cliché and it's admittedly not very insider-y, but the biggest questions around Newton will only be answered with time.