Why the Chicago Bears Should Go After Cam Newton in Free Agency

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) smiles on the field before the Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)
Doug Murray/Associated Press

Stop us if you've heard this before: The Chicago Bears need a quarterback.

Mitchell Trubisky is heading into free agency, and he and the Bears have "zero interest" in extending their time together, according to ESPN's David Kaplan. Nick Foles is their only quarterback under contract at the moment, but he isn't their long-term answer under center, either.

"Everything is on the table in regards to the quarterback situation," Bears general manager Ryan Pace told reporters Tuesday. "That includes players on our roster, players in free agency, trade, the draft or a combination of all of those. We have a plan in place, and now it's about executing that plan."

Barring a trade up, the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL draft will likely be long gone when the Bears are on the clock at No. 20. Free agency may be their best bet to find a stopgap option.

And while Cam Newton isn't the Superman we once saw with the Carolina Panthers, he's the best available quarterback to lead the Bears offense in 2021. 

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton
New England Patriots quarterback Cam NewtonCharles Krupa/Associated Press
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Foles is one of the best backups in NFL history and has a Super Bowl win as a fill-in starter to prove it, but the 32-year-old has suited up for five teams and has never played more than 13 games in a season. Pace put a positive spin on Foles' 2020 campaign during his end-of-season press conference, per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times, but he went 2-5 as a starter and threw only 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

If the Bears are ready to move on from Trubisky and don't consider Foles a viable replacement, what's left on the open market? Not much.

The Dallas Cowboys and impending free-agent quarterback Dak Prescott are continuing to work through negotiations on a long-term deal, per NFL Network's Jane Slater. If they don't reach an agreement by the March 9 franchise-tag deadline, the Cowboys figure to tag him for the second straight year.

After Prescott, the Bears' free-agent options quickly dwindle.

Tyrod Taylor has started in four games over the last three seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick played well for the Miami Dolphins in short stretches this past year, but the savvy veteran is heading into his age-39 campaign. Andy Dalton would be a solid stopgap choice, but he wouldn't impact the ground attack as Newton does on run-pass options or off-script. 

Newton has a lot of wear and tear after 10 NFL seasons, having rushed for 5,398 yards and 70 touchdowns in 140 career games. The Bears might want to preserve his body and not run a ton of RPOs. However, they could surround him with a better supporting cast than he had in New England this past season.

In 15 starts with the Patriots, Newton threw for only 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions—numbers that won't help him land a top-dollar deal on the open market. If he signs early in free agency, the 31-year-old might be able to fetch a contract worth $6-8 million, which is more appealing than his expiring $1.75 million base salary with per-game incentives.

Chicago should consider that a bargain. Although Newton's 2020 numbers look awful on paper, he played with one of the most talent-bereft pass-catching groups in the league.

The Patriots' lead receiver, Julian Edelman, missed 10 games because of a knee injury that required surgery. New England selected two tight ends in the third round of the 2020 draft, Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi, who combined for only five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Jakobi Meyers finished as the Patriots' top receiver with 59 receptions for 729 yards. The second-year undrafted product out of North Carolina State, who transitioned from quarterback to wide receiver in college, would be a No. 3 or No. 4 option on most teams. 

Despite all of the hits Newton has taken and the multiple surgeries he's undergone over the past few years, he can still shake off defenders, make plays with his arm and pick up yards with his legs. The 6'5", 245-pounder scored 12 rushing touchdowns this season, all of which were within 11 yards of the goal line. 

Newton would likely put together far better passing performances with the Bears' offensive playmakers.

Running back David Montgomery finished this season with 1,070 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns to go with 54 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie wideout Darnell Mooney hauled in 61 catches for 631 yards and four scores. First-year tight end Cole Kmet showed flashes in an increased role, taking snaps from Jimmy Graham down the stretch. Anthony Miller has served as a solid slot receiver over the past three seasons, logging a combined 134 receptions for 1,564 yards and 11 scores.

The Bears also have a shot to re-sign their No. 1 receiver, Allen Robinson II. The Pro Bowl wideout told Tyler Dunne of GoLongTD.com that he wants to stay in Chicago but faces a financial obstacle: 

"I'm not opposed to being back in Chicago by any means. I've even expressed that over the last couple of years—wanting to be the all-time leading receiver in Chicago which, I believe, I'm under 2,000 yards away from that. With all that being said...we haven't even been given a viable option to be able to do those things that we want to do without sacrificing a ridiculous amount pretty much for the rest of my career." 

When asked about Robinson's contract situation during a press conference, Pace didn't rule out the franchise tag:

The Bears are currently projected to have only $233,600 in cap space, per Over the Cap, but they can designate Graham and offensive tackle Bobby Massie as post-June 1 cuts to free up $15 million. They could part ways with 31-year-old defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to free up an additional $10.5 million

With a few moves, the Bears would have the financial capital to satisfy Robinson's long-term contract demands and sign Newton to improve their offensive outlook in 2021. 

Newton isn't a long-term answer, but he could help preserve Pace's and head coach Matt Nagy's jobs. The former is heading into the final year of his contract, while the latter has two seasons left.

Back in January, Bears chairman George McCaskey made a statement on the job statuses of both Pace and Nagy, which suggests they're both on the hot seat, and said they need "better production from the quarterback position to be successful.

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) and head coach Matt Nagy (right)
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) and head coach Matt Nagy (right)Nam Huh/Associated Press

If Chicago misses the playoffs this season, it could decide to embark upon a full rebuild with a new general manager and head coach in 2022. The current regime doesn't have time to develop a quarterback from the draft, especially one available at No. 20. 

Pace and Nagy must approach the 2021 season in win-now mode with a reliable signal-caller. Foles doesn't fit the bill. But Newton has missed more than two games in a single season only once (in 2019).

Despite a rough 2020 campaign in New England with few playmakers around him, Newton completed 65.8 percent of his passes. Still hard to take down in the pocket, he could inject some life into a Bears offense that ranked 22nd in scoring with Trubisky and Foles at the helm this past season.

The Bears would need to keep searching for their long-term answer under center, but Newton is the best option to help them bridge that gap in 2021.