On Friday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked whether he has spoken to Patriots coach Bill Belichick about free-agent quarterback Cam Newton. Jones, in a roundabout way, said that Newton can be evaluated without speaking to Belichick.
As one source with extensive experience evaluating NFL personnel explained it, the current issue with Cam is his history of injuries and a belief that he’s not throwing the ball very well.
This same source bristled loudly at former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s recent suggestion that Newton didn’t understand the playbook, and that a rookie quarterback had to help him learn it. Newton was with the Patriots throughout 2020. They chose to re-sign him. Less than two weeks ago, Newton was described by Bill Belichick as the starter. (Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the same thing, a day earlier.)
The source believes that a bunch of former Patriots players (such as Ninkovich) had a hard time with Tom Brady leaving and Cam Newton replacing Brady. Also, pointing to potential red herrings like playbook issues or distractions from music being played at practice cover up the basic truth. Cam was the starter until he failed to comply with a fairly basic aspect of the rule applicable to unvaccinated players. Thus, the decision to make him not the starter flowed directly from his vaccination status and the ever-present possibility that he won’t be available to play or to practice.
His vaccination status surely will be an issue moving forward. At this point in his career, he’s not so clearly dominant that a team would welcome an unvaccinated Cam Newton into the locker room. Even if he’s vaccinated, there’s no clear path to a roster spot with any team.
That’s why his best plan at this point would be to get vaccinated (for a variety of good reasons), stay in shape, and wait for an injury. The question then will become whether the team is content to go “next man up” with a player who is a backup for a reason, or roll the dice on the first pick in the 2011 draft and the 2015 NFL MVP.