While most New England Patriots fans speculated that quarterback Cam Newton would not be returning to the team for the 2021 season, the front office had other plans. On Friday, the team announced they were bringing Newton back on a one-year deal that can be worth up to $14 million.
The 2020 season left a sour taste for the Patriots, who finished with a 7-9 regular season record; their first losing season since the 2000 campaign. Newton finished last in the league in passing yards per game (177.1) and his QBR of 47.0 ranked 30th among qualifying quarterbacks.
Despite offensive flaws, Newton and the offense were efficient on the ground. New England finished fourth in rushing yards per game (146.6), while the 31-year old was responsible for 592 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The Patriots were 20th in scoring last season, finishing with 20.4 points per contest.
2021 NFL Draft Potential
However, the 2021 season brings along new expectations. With the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, could the front office seek out offensive talent? According to NFL experts, the top mocked prospects in the first round on the offensive side for the Patriots to this point have been Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, along with Alabama wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
While New England has clear needs on the defensive side of the ball, having an offensive stud fall to the 15th overall selection could create a conversation. The 96.2 PFF grade for Pitts was the highest for any receiving target in 2020, and has been one of the most efficient red zone targets in college football. The story behind Smith and Waddle is self-explanatory, as the two combined for 2,447 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
Free Agency Flexibility
Entering the offseason, the Patriots rank 3rd in the NFL when it comes to cap space with over $64 million. Their total only trails the Jacksonville Jaguars ($73 million) and New York Jets ($69 million), both of whom don’t have greater odds at success entering the new season.
The top available free agents at the wide receiver position are eye-catching. The class will be headlined by Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Juju Smith-Schuster and Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton. Among the tight ends, Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry will receive attention from multiple teams.
What About Cam?
Assuming Newton will be the starter in Week 1 of the 2021 season, the floor can’t be too high. He has never been among the league’s top passers, but has found success in run-pass option offenses. The Patriots revolved their 2020 offense around him last season, but it wasn’t enough to reach the playoffs.
Based on past performances and the future projections of the Patriots’ roster, Newton will likely finish with the following figures: