A Cam Newton return to Foxborough in 2021 was always in the cards. Bill Belichick's affinity for the quarterback was apparent throughout the regular season in 2020 and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who was watching intently that this loyalty has since bled into the offseason and transformed into a one-year, $14 million incentive-laden deal. While you could always characterize this step as somewhat predictable, only more recently could you start to qualify it as necessary.
One of the main goals for New England this offseason is to improve an offense that ranked as the sixth-worst unit in the league in total yards and points scored along with a passing attack that averaged just 180.6 yards per game (third-worst in the NFL). Part of that effort to boost the offense is to naturally get better production at quarterback, but the skill position players around QB1 are also in need of a massive overhaul.
When you begin to chart a path to address those needs at wideout and tight end, however, New England finds itself in a conundrum.
As I've noted in the past, the NFL calendar does the Patriots no favors as they try to claw back towards relevancy and put together a prolific offense. It's been reported recently that Plan A for New England is to reacquire Jimmy Garoppolo from the San Francisco 49ers. While that may still be their preference, the Niners are currently saying that they are not moving on from the player. If they were to do so, they'd likely need to have another QB in-hand before shopping Garoppolo around. Popular figures floated as potential targets for San Francisco have been Sam Darnold of the Jets and Panthers veteran Teddy Bridgewater. Those players, however, likely won't become available -- if they do at all -- until closer to the NFL Draft which begins on April 29.
Because other dominos need to fall for Garoppolo -- or other quarterbacks like him -- to potentially even become available, New England doesn't have its destiny in its own grasp. There is currently a holding pattern on that type of QB movement until we get closer to the draft and that now hurts the Patriots' pitch to skill position players that are about to hit the free agent market next week.
Wide receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay along with tight ends like Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith would be tremendous and much-needed additions to the Patriots offense and the club has the money to acquire them this free agent cycle. The snag in any potential talks surrounding bringing those types of players aboard, however, is the lack of a quarterback.
That will likely be either the first or second question any free agent pass-catcher asks the Patriots: Who is throwing me the football?
For example, when asked back in February what he's looking for in free agency this offseason, Hunter Henry -- a player that Bill Belichick has scouted since high school -- said this: "You gotta look at some of the financial stuff, but not dive too deep into it that you go chasing it because I also want to play with a good quarterback."
This is where we start to see a Cam Newton return evolving into a necessity. For New England to have a shot at landing one or more of these free agent pass catchers, they needed to be able to answer that question at quarterback. While Newton may not be the same player he was during his MVP season in 2015, he still has an aura around the league that could be a draw some pass-catchers, especially if they believe his so-so passing season in 2020 was largely due to the lack of weapons.
Of course, the Patriots could -- and likely will -- continue to explore other quarterback options in the months ahead. That said, even if we were to toss aside Belichick's admiration for the player, the stagnant nature of other potential QB moves throughout the league quickly turned Newton into the best -- and possibly only -- option available for New England to try and pitch receivers on coming to Foxborough. A quarterback is better than no quarterback, right?