Cam Newton has improved so far this season, but is he the answer for 2021? It’s complicated

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For the first time in Cam Newton’s career as a Patriot, we got the full Newton experience Sunday in Houston during the 27-20 loss.

There were some great plays — highlighted by a dime to Damiere Byrd for a 42-yard touchdown — and then some bad ones, including missing a number of easy throws to wide open players in the flat and having five passes batted down at the line (four by J.J. Watt).

While Newton certainly wasn’t the biggest reason why the Patriots lost to the Texans and he threw for over 350 yards, he didn’t do enough to get the win, including turning the ball over on downs deep in Houston territory with 1:11 to play with a chance to potentially tie the game.

The Texans have allowed 21 or more points in seven out of 10 games this year, and over 30 points in five. New England’s offense should have performed better than it did.

“At times, we moved the ball offensively, but we weren’t consistent enough,” Newton said Monday on The Greg Hill Show. “I am speaking more or less about myself.”

While there’s no question Newton has improved over the course of the year and has played his three best games the last three weeks, it was a pretty low bar to go up from. He’s been praised for just not throwing interceptions. Is that really what NFL quarterback play, especially for the New England Patriots, should be judged on?

For the season, Newton is completing 68 percent of his passes to go along with four touchdowns (nine rushing) and seven interceptions. Even combining his touchdowns, 13 would be good for 20th in the NFL when it comes to passing touchdowns.

After Sunday, he is 28th in attempts, 25th in completions, 11th in completion percentage, 23rd in yards, 34th in touchdowns, 18th in interceptions and 27th in QB rating.

The Patriots offense has been dialed back with Newton under center and Josh McDaniels seems to still be calling plays like he’s working with a QB using training wheels.

And there’s a reason for that.

Newton cannot make simple throws, so why would the team feel comfortable letting him loose and allow him to do more? Sure some will hit, but it's not something sustainable.

Just look at Sunday’s game in Houston.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Newton was 18-for-28 with 158 yards and a 79.2 passer rating on passes that were short or behind the line of scrimmage.

In terms of simple incompletions there was a near pick-6 on a short out route to Donte Moncrief late in the first quarter, badly throwing it at the feet of James White on a second-and-17 dump off midway through the second quarter, the same to Damien Harris midway through the third quarter, completely missing White on a swing pass early in the fourth quarter and lastly throwing it at at the feet of N’Keal Harry in the flat on first-and-10 with 3:32 to play.

This isn’t even mentioning the five batted passes. These passes are supposed to be completed and if he cannot complete these basic throws, why would McDaniels call for more throws down the field? That just opens the door for turnovers to happen and those are the last the thing offense wants.

Furthermore, Newton struggled to identify and handle the blitz.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was 8-of-15 passing, averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, took two sacks, and had three batted passes for a 65.7 QB rating when Houston blitzed Sunday.

That isn’t good.

For as much as Newton has progressed recently — which he absolutely has — what is his ceiling with the Patriots offense? How much better can he get? It’s hard to imagine him being much better than he was on Sunday where he still had a few faults and the Patriots lost the game.

"I think every day for me is another opportunity for me to get better," he said on The Greg Hill Show Monday when asked if he’s comfortable with the offense. "Do I know everything in this offense? No, I do not. But I am striding to do that. Whether it is from watching film, to taking notes, to asking the proper questions, that is my job to do and I feel as if I am more in control than I have been. I can say that.”

This is the question the Patriots need to ask themselves as it relates to the 2021 season and what they want to do at the quarterback position since Newton will be a free agent after the season.

It’s a complicated discussion not only when it comes to Newton, but when it comes to who could potentially replace him. There’s no question the organization will be targeting a quarterback high in the draft, but a veteran outside the organization could also be brought in.

As it stands now, it’s hard to imagine teams will be rushing to sign Newton in free agency, and since it seems the Patriots like his attitude and he seems to like playing in New England, the Patriots absolutely are in play to re-sign him if they would like.

Objectively, Newton is realistically in the 15-20 range when it comes to best quarterbacks in the league right now. Can the Patriots do better is the question they will be asking themselves.

Do they believe they could get more out of a player such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Joe Flacco, maybe Jimmy Garoppolo or a rookie coming out of the draft?

It’s a tough call.

And it’s even more complicated if a rookie is selected in high in the draft with the plan to start him at some point in Year 1 or to start Year 2.

If that is the case, Newton may be an ideal player to have around for that young quarterback to learn from since he seems like an ideal teammate through 10 games this year. Also, if the Patriots plan on drafting a QB high in the draft, which one of those free agents would want to sign in New England?

The Patriots might bring back Newton for the same reasons why they signed him last July — he was their best option at a really good price.

In sum, the Patriots offense is getting held back by Newton in certain instances, but given potential options this offseason it’s quite possible the quarterback returns for a second season in New England.