Bill Belichick’s quarterback plan for 2021, his second shot at finding a successor to Tom Brady, better have a wrinkle or a trap door hidden someplace.
Bringing Cam Newton back as a solo act just doesn’t cut it. He makes sense only if there’s another quarterback attached.
Newton alone won’t whet the appetite of fans who were spoiled by Brady and/or simply want a replacement who can throw the football consistently.
Unless Jimmy Garoppolo shakes free or Belichick moves up to draft Trey Lance, Justin Fields or another prospect he sees as a future superstar, this same old plan will net the same old results.
Even if Belichick spends all his cap space, beefing up the defense and adding a few more weapons, how much better will it be if Newton throws the ball the same way he did last year?
A couple of wins?
At this stage, it’s worth giving Belichick the benefit of the doubt, and holding out hope that he still has something else up his sleeve. Right now, even with Newton, who agreed to a one-year, incentive-laden deal, the quarterback position must be incomplete.
Patriots Hall of Famer Rodney Harrison, an NBC analyst, was vocally opposed to bringing Newton back. He thought such a move would be “the worst decision (Belichick) has ever made.”
He hasn’t changed his mind.
Speaking with Harrison moments after the news broke early Friday morning, he was dumbfounded.
“To me, if you’re starting over and you got rid of Tom, why would you re-sign an aging quarterback? I just don’t think (Cam’s) going to be able to take them to the next level,” Harrison said. “Maybe I’m wrong. ... But if I’m Belichick, and I’m 68 years old, and I’m trying to rebuild my team, I’m not starting with a quarterback that has a lot of question marks around him.
“Can he perform? Can he throw? Can he drop back and consistently not throw it into the ground? He hasn’t shown that.”
Newton, who turns 32 in May, added a running dimension to the Pats offense last year. He tied top running back Damien Harris for the team lead in carries with 137 and also rushed for 12 touchdowns.
But when it came to throwing the football, he was erratic. Some games, he looked great. Others, he had a habit of bouncing throws well short of the receivers.
To be fair, Newton also didn’t have the best supporting cast around him in terms of weapons, and the circumstances of being signed late in a virtual offseason, and then being set back by COVID-19, slowed his learning curve in the system.
Will another year really turn Clark Kent back into Superman?
Maybe. But it’s still hard to fathom, without some kind of twist. Granted, the free-agent pool of quarterbacks isn’t great, but going back to the same well is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Yes, Newton could be better with help. The players do respond to him, and he’s a positive influence in the locker room. He won’t have to start learning the system from scratch, which is another benefit.
But his arm is scary, and not in a good way. There has to be another card played by Belichick.
“Unless Cam goes in and changes his uniform, and comes out a different player ... oh man, it doesn’t make sense,” Harrison said. “My first thought is, they’ve got to bring in competition for him. They can’t just unequivocally name him the starter after what happened last year.
“He provided leadership, and all the guys liked him, and took to him, but at the end of the day, it comes down to being able to make plays consistently. If you can’t do that as a quarterback, it’s going to be hard for the Patriots to win.”
The incentive-charged deal for one season helps the cause and makes one believe Belichick isn’t done. More to the point, will having Cam and an open checkbook be enough to help lure prospective receivers and tight ends in free agency, to want to play in New England?
Knocking on the door of free agency, it’s probably better that they have somebody in place, and Newton’s name still carries some weight. But there has to be something else attached, some mystery spice to enhance the position and give hope.
If not, what’s the point?