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The Patriots Have Cam Newton. The Rest of the NFL Let It Happen.

New England is replacing Tom Brady with a QB who just five years ago was the most dominant player on the planet. What comes next?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Neverending Dynasty has a smiling new face. The Patriots lost their Hall of Fame quarterback this offseason, but somehow have replaced him with an MVP. New England reached an agreement to sign Cam Newton on Sunday, putting one of the most dynamic players of the last decade on the most dominant team of the past two decades.

It seemed impossible that New England would simply fade into irrelevance after 20 years of Tom Brady. It also seemed impossible that Newton would simply disappear after winning just about every award that a football player could win between his 2010 Heisman Trophy at Auburn and his 2015 NFL MVP with the Carolina Panthers. Now, neither of those things has to happen. With Newton, the Patriots will be heavily favored to win the AFC East for the 12th consecutive season; with the Patriots, Newton will have a chance to prove that he’s still got some Superman left in him.

Newton’s contract is reportedly an “incentive-laden” one-year deal worth up to $7.5 million. That’s a low-risk, high-reward proposition for both parties. You can almost imagine a split-screen telecast with Bill Belichick sitting at home watching game tape of Jarrett Stidham on one side and Newton sitting at home realizing he needs to play somewhere on the other. Both would pick up their phones simultaneously. For all the talk about Stidham’s prospects over the past few months, it seems unlikely that the fourth-round draft pick who has thrown four career NFL passes will challenge Newton in a quarterback competition. Reference the Auburn résumés of both players if you need help. Belichick’s dog could just as easily pick the starter.

Even so, there are plenty of reasons why this pairing might not work. While Newton once seemed so indestructible that the closest comparison for him was a superhero who can only be defeated by a fictional mineral from a faraway galaxy, he has recently started to show signs of wear, presumably from a playing style built around powering through opponents. He suffered season-ending injuries in both 2018 and 2019. In his last eight games in Carolina, the Panthers went 0-8 while Newton threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have never won big without Brady, and their dynastic reputation obscures a roster that may not put Newton in a great position to succeed. The Pats arguably have the worst receiving corps in the league, with 34-year-old Julian Edelman, 30-year-old Mohamed Sanu, and struggling youngster N’Keal Harry topping the depth chart. Something called a “Matt LaCosse” is their top tight end. Sure, Newton was a one-man force at his peak: None of his Auburn teammates went on to succeed in the NFL, and he made the Super Bowl with a team that started Corey “Philly” Brown at receiver. But Newton has logged a lot of miles, and might not be capable of singlehandedly carrying his supporting casts anymore.

But still, THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS ARE SIGNING CAM NEWTON. The Pats and Newton long seemed like they existed in separate football worlds: New England was the dynasty whose super-secret system kept it in contention year after year after year; Newton was the superstar who didn’t need a damn system to get to the Super Bowl. Now, the two are together, Superman playing The Patriot Way. It’s an outcome that would make you quit your Madden franchise.

Newton winding up on the Patriots feels like another instance of Belichick outsmarting the rest of the league, adding to a 20-year file of finding draft steals, turning retreads into rebirths, and taking advantage of surprise loopholes. But this isn’t just about the Patriots. Thirty-one teams had the chance to sign Newton after the Panthers unceremoniously cut him in March, just five years removed from him being the best player in the sport. It’s baffling that until now nobody was even willing to take a flyer on him. It’s not like Cam is ancient—he just turned 31! Russell Wilson is older. Incidentally, 31 is the number of teams that decided they didn’t want him.

Even if Newton hits all his incentives and makes $7.5 million, he’ll still make less than the average annual salaries of some backups. This offseason, the Bears, Saints, and Raiders agreed to pay more to Nick Foles, Taysom Hill, and Marcus Mariota, respectively. Those teams got backup quarterbacks; the Pats got Cam Newton.

The Patriots are gambling that Newton can look like the QB who once was the most dominant player on the planet. Every other NFL team made the riskier gamble by deciding that giving a small contract to a potential superhero wasn’t worth it.