Once the Patriots signed Cam Newton, and once he passed their physical with no issues whatsoever, he was always going to be the face of their offense. Period.

The idea that this would be an outright competition, and all of Bill Belichick’s murmuring about splitting reps, was poppycock, as many pointed out then and now. Once they got Newton at their price, without any restrictions on being able to place a franchise tag on him in 2021, it was incredibly obvious that they would be building this Tom-Bradyless offense around him.

And so they shall.

And it says here that Newton will be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and that a franchise tag will be slapped on him in 2021 and my supposition is that all of it will serve as the precursor to a long-term deal at some point next offseason. Because Newton is going to immediately elevate the run game, make the Patriots much more difficult to defend and his presence will allow them to move the pocket and the mesh point to compensate for a group of skill players that leaves much to be desired. Vast areas of the playbook are opened up by his presence and ability.

It’s going to work, and work very well, and as long as he can avoid major injury I see this being much more than a look-see. However, that does not mean that Jarrett Stidham is a failure, or has no future in New England or the NFL for that matter. Newton’s arrival as a former MVP who looks to be in the best shape of his life is not mutually exclusive to the Patriots being very much prepared to roll with Stidham prior to that signing.

Don’t get it twisted.

There is a narrative out there that anyone who reported on New England’s commitment to Stidham through this long and strange offseason — beyond the draft and into virtual Organized Team Activities — was a rube. Totally hoodwinked. A fool.

But that ain’t the case. Keep in mind how many proven, cheap quarterbacks the Patriots turned a blind eye to throughout an offseason of unprecedented QB movement. It was the first time anyone can recall that supply and demand were this out of whack, with fewer teams needing QBs and a deflated market of former playoff quarterbacks or Pro Bowlers sitting around hoping someone would throw a few bucks their way. Take the Bears out of it, who are in their own subcategory when it comes to misguided QB transactions, and the rest of the league was pretty much in lockstep about how to play the long game with this position group.

And still, despite the Patriots having the most overt need for a veteran starting QB, they waited longer than anyone, all the way til July, and acted only once they could get Newton for an absolute steal at $1M — with only half of that guaranteed. If they thought Stidham was an afterthought and nowhere close to being ready to play, don’t you think they might have thrown $5M at Newton or $1M at Andy Dalton weeks if not months before they finally did make a move? 

Yeah, they had a bit of a cap crunch, but for a position of this much import, and a franchise trying to survive the loss of arguably the greatest QB in the history of the game, there’s always a few million in the seat cushions or a basic contract restructuring to provide more relief.

Few teams have done as well as the Patriots developing backup QBs over the years — Jimmy Garappolo and Jacoby Brissett and Matt Cassel and Brian Hoyer, for instance — and I heard from too many people I trust about how much they thought of Stidham and what he absorbed as a rookie and what he showed in practice. There was never a sense of panic from this organization about the QB room, and there was never any guarantee that Newton would decide to accept a contract that negligible. 

Signing him at that price doesn’t negate Stidham’s development … but it also is a no-brainer as to who you start between Cam Bleepin’ Newton, healthy and hungry and with a physique the likes of which we have never seen at that position and a unique skillset, and a kid who has never started an NFL game. And if/when Newton performs like a star, it only makes sense that Belichick will want to keep him around more than a year.

But I bet Stidham ends up getting a chance somewhere, soon enough. Whether it’s New England or elsewhere. Josh McDaniels develops quarterbacks like few others, and he can cater this offense to suit Newton and continue to bring along Stidham at the same time.

Peterson never made much sense for Washington

The surprising thing is not that Adrian Peterson got cut as a running back in his mid-30s on what might be the worst team in football. It’s that he stuck around so long in the first place.

The Washington Football Team has seemingly been alone in its judgement that it hasn’t in fact been a non-factor for years now, and a team that should be going as young as possible in hopes of discovering a few gems and rebuilding. Peterson, who never really fit their scheme and who has slowed down considerably and is not much of an aid at this point in the passing game, managed to find a home there despite it not making much sense under multiple coaching staffs.

One always got the sense, chatting even casually about the topic with those in the front office or coaching staff, that Peterson was a bit of a sacred cow. A figurehead who had an elite resume behind him who might sell a few jerseys on a team starved for any star-power. He was, frankly, a guy that the owner liked having around, and it probably wasn’t worth the energy of trying to move on from him. Only now, with former team president Bruce Allen (who was considered the owner’s eyes and ears and, well, henchman for lack of a better term) finally gone and new head coach Ron Rivera about as empowered as can be, and with Daniel Snyder dealing with myriad off-field issues, it was time for this team to make rational football decisions.

I wouldn’t say that they are all set at running back — it’s just that having a limited future Hall of Famer who isn’t going to play special teams and isn’t going to factor in on passing downs hanging around on a roster in drastic need of reshaping doesn’t make much sense. Will Antonio Gibson make a smooth transition from college receiver to NFL feature back? Can Bryce Love stay healthy? We’ll see on both counts. Neither is assured, but giving maximum opportunity to both was essential on a three-win team that needs, desperately, to identify a young core on offense besides receiver Terry McLaurin.

More NFL insider notes

  • I went with Javon Kinlaw as my prediction for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Yeah he is a defensive tackle, and those guys tend to get overlooked and obscured. But that defensive line is sick and this kid is a natural and he is going to get some looks at quarterbacks. Hearing Trent Williams call him a future Defensive Player of the Year only furthers my position. I’d jump on that DROY prop bet if I had a few extra coins in my pocket … 
  • Jon Gruden seems bound and determined to make Nathan Peterman an NFL QB, doesn’t he? From gushing about him during his ESPN days to redoing his deal to keep him around, now. If it works you have to give him credit, though I must admit I remain skeptical … 
  • If the Cowboys do not rush to sign Earl Thomas, and I don’t anticipate them doing so, it will be telling, and it will chill what is already a frosty market for him. Teams that have done their homework are turning away. Will someone sign him eventually? I’d certainly expect it, but his days of $10M a year are long gone and I’d suspect it may take him a few more weeks to get his head around that reality … 
  • Continue to hear very positive things about Ravens safety DeShon Elliott, who was elevated to starter when Thomas was cut. The rest of that secondary believes in the kid and vouched for him and are invested in his development. Great cast around him. I think he’ll be just fine. 

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