The end of his nine-year stay with the Carolina Panthers arrived last March 24, leaving Cam Newton a former most valuable player without a team.
For three months after that move was made, the quarterback waited for a new door to open as he turned 31, but no takers were found through the NFL free agency process.
“Pressure is when you’re looking at your children and you’re saying you’re 31 and you’re not ready to retire, but nobody’s calling your phone,” said Newton. “That’s pressure when you don’t have control of your destiny.”
The long wait for a new opportunity arrived on the final weekend of June, though, when the Patriots agreed to a one-year contract with Newton.
Not long before the start of training camp, a team that had lost legend Tom Brady to free agency brought in Newton, who was waived by the Panthers after dealing with injuries the past two seasons.
And on Sunday at an empty Gillette Stadium, Newton will be starting against the Miami Dolphins after being unsure what the future held for him back in the spring.
“I’m elated, I’m excited because I knew that if God didn’t show favor over me, man, who knows where I would be right now,” said Newton on a video conference last week. “And yet through it all, I’m going to smile through it because I’m going to love this whole moment. I just got rewarded with another chance and I’ve got to do right by it.
“Two or three months ago, I was questioning a lot of things. Right now, as I’m looking at Gillette (Stadium name), and the iconic logo of the Patriots, how can I lose, know what I’m saying?
“I was at my house working out every single day, and God has put me in this position I would not take for granted. I pray countless nights, I meditated countless days. I had so much counsel from my support cast.”
Newton, who led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015 when he was the NFL’s MVP, missed the final two games of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He started the first two games of the 2019 season but struggled and sat out the remaining 14 games due to a foot injury that needed surgery last December.
The Panthers decided not to bring him back in 2020, giving Newton the chance to work out a trade, but after that didn’t happen, he was waived in late March with the team saving $19 million in salary cap space.
The Patriots had second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham and journeyman Brian Hoyer as the players in line to replace Brady, but they saw Newton still on the free-agent market as summer began and brought him in.
Only three other quarterbacks have started for the Patriots since Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe early in the 2001 season, and now Newton will be taking over for the first-ballot Hall of Famer who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’ve been here going on a month and a half,” said Newton. “I’m ready. I know opening day, (Brady is) not going to really be worried about little old me and I know opening day I just have other things to be focusing on other than who was here before.
“I have to do right by my opportunity that I do get and make the most of it.”
Newton will become just the second Black quarterback to start a game for the Patriots, joining Jacoby Brissett, who started two games in the 2016 season when Brady was suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo was injured.
Newton talked about growing up in Atlanta and how Michael Vick was his hero and how he looked up to other Black quarterbacks like Vince Young, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, among others.
He knows the significance of being a Black quarterback in the NFL and for the Patriots, who played their first game 60 years ago this week at Boston University.
“It’s a big deal. It’s really a big deal,” said Newton. “I understand who I am. I understand being an African-American in this time, we have to be stronger. This is a great feat to achieve, but yet at the end of the day we’ve got to make sure we’re using our platform for positive reasons and that’s what I want to do.
“I want to prove to people that there’s more to a person than just what you see on the outer level. I’m a person who got second and third and fourth chances in my life and yet through it all, it should always be about what that person’s about, not what that person looks like.
“As long as I have this opportunity to impact and empower the community whether it’s the Black community or the white community, it doesn’t matter what community it may be, I just want to do my part as a good Samaritan.”
Newton said his excitement level is at “1,000” going into his first game since a Sept. 12, 2019, loss to the Buccaneers.
He sat out 16 of the last 18 games with the Panthers due to injuries, so there is rustiness to deal with, especially after a shortened training game with no preseason games.
“You’ve got to remember, I’ve been away from football for really a full year, 16 games,” said Newton. “I missed the last two games of 2018 and only played two games of 2019, so that’s an equivalent of a 16 games, so I haven’t really had this whole process for a long time now.
“Being around, taking notes, watching film, finding out about different players each and every day, locking in, (I’m) excited about the game plan and more excited about just trying to get in a routine with the newness of the play calling, the coaches and the players.”
“I think right now where I’m at, I’m in a happy place. I feel motivated. I feel just a lot of great emotions that’s going on that’s not hindering me from becoming my best self. And yet through it all, I just like it most that I’m just a piece to the puzzle. I don’t want to be the puzzle.”