NFL Free Agency 2020: The Best Potential Landing Spots for QB Cam Newton
A month ago, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Panthers were "moving forward" with Newton as their starting quarterback. However, the organization went with Bridgewater instead.
Now, Newton must regroup and start a new chapter in his NFL career. However, he landed on the open market after several quarterback-needy clubs had either re-signed or acquired a new signal-caller.
Although Newton has slim pickings in terms of potential destinations, there are five landing spots where he can compete for the starting position or take the field if a young quarterback struggles early next season.
These five destinations are ranked based on Newton's opportunity to start, the team's current financial situation, his familiarity with the coaching staff and the supporting casts.
No. 5: Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Newton spent six seasons together with the Panthers. The former defensive coordinator knows the quarterback's strengths after years of practicing against him.
Newton's flashy personality doesn't seem like a fit in Buffalo, but quarterback Josh Allen plays a similar style to the nine-year veteran.
Among quarterbacks with the most rushing yards in their first two seasons, Newton ranks second (1,447) and Allen is fourth (1,141). They're first and second, respectively, in touchdowns on the ground.
Both Newton and Allen have big arms with inconsistent accuracy. The former has completed 59.6 percent of his career passes, while the latter has connected on 56.3 percent of his attempts.
However, Newton set a career high in completion rate (67.9 percent) during the 2018 campaign under former offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Perhaps he can give Allen some pointers.
This offseason, Buffalo acquired wideout Stefon Diggs in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. If Allen can't capitalize on his new perimeter pass-catcher, Newton could build a rapport with another agile Maryland wideout as he did with DJ Moore in Carolina.
A reunion with McDermott in Buffalo would put Newton in a mentor role to a comparable quarterback with a slight chance to take over if the offense stalls next season. Newton would have to wait his turn to see the field, so he may prefer other landing spots, but his familiarity with McDermott makes this pairing possible.
No. 4: Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos president of football operations and general manager John Elway put his stamp of approval on rising second-year quarterback Drew Lock. Newton, who's coming off foot surgery for a Lisfranc injury, wouldn't just come into Denver and take the starting job.
Lock started only five games as a rookie, but he showed promise. The second-round pick threw for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 64.1 percent of his passes.
The Broncos may consider Lock their quarterback of the future, but he's far from a proven starter. If the 23-year-old takes a step back next season, Denver doesn't have a high-end backup who can run the offense and keep the squad competitive.
This offseason, the Broncos released veteran Joe Flacco and signed Jeff Driskel, who threw four touchdowns and four interceptions with the Detroit Lions last season. Backup Brandon Allen had 515 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions with a 46.4 percent completion rate in three starts in 2019, while fellow backup Brett Rypien hasn't attempted a regular-season pass.
Newton could give the Broncos hope for a playoff run by pairing a competent offense with a top-10 scoring defense. He would also reunite with his former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Mike Shula, whom the Broncos hired for the former position in January.
Newton would have a better chance to start in Denver than Buffalo since Lock has less experience than Allen. If Lock struggles at the start of the 2020 season, the coaching staff might consider a quarterback switch.
No. 3: New England Patriots
The New England Patriots would have to sort out a salary-cap hurdle before they consider signing Newton.
The Patriots currently have only $1.92 million in cap space. They placed a $14.78 million franchise tag on guard Joe Thuney earlier this month.
New England could trade Thuney for draft capital and release wideout Mohamed Sanu Sr. for $21.28 million in cap savings, per Over the Cap. The Pats could release rotational defensive lineman Lawrence Guy to recoup another $4 million. Those moves would help clear enough space for Newton.
At the most important position on the roster, Newton is worth the financial hassle. New England can draft a guard early, a defensive lineman on Day 2 or 3 and have its options among a strong group of incoming wide receivers.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick won six Super Bowls with Tom Brady, but he also holds Newton in high regard. During a press conference in September 2017, Belichick praised: "He makes good decisions, he can run, he's strong, he's hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in '13, so I would put him at the top of the list. Not saying the other guys aren't a problem, because they are, but he's public enemy No. 1."
Newton's skill set would allow the Patriots to open up their playbook. Unlike Brady, he's a threat on the ground. Defenses may use a linebacker to spy him, which would create opportunities in the middle of the field. Out of the slot, wideout Julian Edelman can expose those voids. Pass-catching running back James White can do the same.
Right now, 34-year-old journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer and 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, who's thrown four regular-season passes, are the competitors for the starting spot.
According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, the Patriots don't "have any immediate interest" in Newton, but he could easily win the starting job over Hoyer and Stidham, which should make New England more appealing than either Buffalo or Denver. Perhaps extra cap room would encourage New England to broaden its starting quarterback options. If so, Newton should be atop a revised list.
No. 2: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars traded quarterback Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears this offseason, which clears Gardner Minshew II's pathway to the starting position.
After Foles broke his collarbone in last year's season opener, Minshew Mania took over the league. The 2019 sixth-rounder threw for nine touchdowns and only one interception in his first five games. The Jaguars fielded a decent aerial attack with the young signal-caller and wideout DJ Chark Jr.'s Pro Bowl campaign.
However, Minshew lost a bit of his rhythm after Foles returned to the lineup and then went back to the bench because of subpar performances. In December, the Washington State product threw for eight touchdowns and two interceptions, but he logged fewer than 202 passing yards in four out of those five outings.
Minshew should be considered the favorite to start in Jacksonville over Joshua Dobbs, but he isn't in the franchise quarterback conversation this early in his career. That's where Newton can elevate the Jaguars.
At times, Newton put the Panthers offense on his back, using his arm and legs to generate yards. If he's healthy, the dual threat can do the same in Jacksonville. He'll also have help with workhorse running back Leonard Fournette behind him along with Chark and Dede Westbrook on the perimeter.
Chark and Westbrook have the speed comparable to DJ Moore, Newton's lead wideout from the 2018 campaign. Last season, Fournette showed reliable hands, hauling in 76 out of 100 targets for 522 yards. He isn't as good as Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is in the passing game, but the 25-year-old can become Newton's go-to checkdown option.
Jacksonville still has more than $20 million in cap space, per Spotrac, which should make it more appealing to Newton than New England from a financial perspective. If the Jaguars don't select a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft, a competition between Newton and Minshew should favor the former league MVP.
No. 1: Los Angeles Chargers
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Chargers "are not expected to sign or trade for a veteran QB." Los Angeles may be hesitant to sign Newton since the league paused team-related physicals because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Without a comprehensive update on Newton's condition, the Chargers have no reason to sign him right away. But if he proves to be in good physical shape, Los Angeles should bring in the 30-year-old for an open quarterback competition.
Among his most realistic landing spots, Newton's bright personality—which includes a Superman pose and a wide-ranging wardrobe—fits Los Angeles the most. He would immediately become a star for a franchise set to move into SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
In a potential battle between Newton and Taylor, the former has a bigger arm with the size (6'5", 245 lbs) and mobility to mow over defenders. The latter (6'1", 217 lbs) can evade pocket pressure and scramble for yards, but he isn't as tough to bring down on foot.
Taylor has a connection with head coach Anthony Lynn from their shared time in Buffalo, but Newton's talent could supersede his would-be competitor's familiarity with the system.
At his best, Newton could beat Taylor in an offseason battle for the position. He has far more starting experience under center (124 vs. 46) and an upper hand in physical tools that can threaten defenses on the ground and through the air.
Newton would step into an offense with a plethora of playmakers, including tight end Hunter Henry, dual-threat running back Austin Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. That makes the Chargers the best destination for him.