The New England Patriots made a splash when they announced the signing of quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. The former NFL MVP was one of the most intriguing free agents left on the open market, but a rash of injuries over the last two seasons contributed to his release by the Carolina Panthers after nine years with the club. The Patriots were able to snap up the 31-year-old signal-caller on a team-friendly one-year contract reportedly worth only $1 million in guarantees but laden with incentives that could pay up to $7.5 for the 2020 NFL season. If Newton is healthy—and that is a big “if” considering the shoulder and Lisfranc injuries the QB has been dealing with—he immediately projects to be a quality, proven starter for a New England team that was looking shaky at the position in wake of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady walking away in free agency after 20 years with the franchise.
Bookmakers believe that Newton could make a major impact for the Patriots this year, making some serious adjustments to several betting lines related to both the player and team. The biggest shift came in the form of the quarterback’s odds to win the 2020 NFL MVP award, where he moved from a longshot at 100-1 all the way down into the fringe contender range at 40-1. Newton looked far from an MVP-candidate during his two appearances in an injury-ravished 2019 campaign, throwing for just 572 yards and no touchdowns with one interception in a pair of losses. His signature elusiveness was also missing in those contests, as Cam rushed just five times for a total of negative two yards, a clear sign that he wasn’t recovered from a foot injury he suffered during the preseason and re-aggravated in Week 2, ultimately causing him to miss the final 14 games of the year.
One would have to turn back to the first half of the 2018 season to find the last time Newton played relatively healthy football. The quarterback guided his Panthers to an NFC South-leading 6-2 record with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 4:1 and was producing close to 280 yards from scrimmage per game before suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder, an ailment he tried to grit through but ultimately caused him to miss the final two games of the campaign before undergoing surgery in the offseason. If the Patriots are able to get something from Newton resembling what he was doing over those initial eight games of 2018, coupled with some innovative scheming from offensive coordinate Josh McDaniels, Newton could find himself squarely in the MVP discussion again this year and see his odds continue to move towards the top of the favorites list.
Vegas is considering the Patriots a more legitimate contender in the post-Brady era now that they have a quarterback with a winning track record in their stable again. The team was preparing to go into the 2020 NFL season with second-year signal-caller Jarrett Stidham as the starter, with veteran backup Brian Hoyer the only other QB on the roster. New England showed confidence in Stidham by passing on several veteran quarterbacks who were available—including former Cincinnati Bengals star Andy Dalton—and declining to select one in this year’s NFL Draft, but the allure of bringing in Newton for a cheap price was likely too tempting for head coach Bill Belichick to pass up. Because of this move, the Pats are now 25-1 to win Super Bowl LV, slightly better than the 28-1 odds they were getting when Stidham was considered the lock to be the club’s starter. The Pats have also seen their chances of winning the division get better, moving from 17/10 down to 13/10, odds that tie them with the Buffalo Bills atop the list of AFC East contenders. New England is now in better shape to win its 12th consecutive division title, although an improved Buffalo squad and a New York Jets rival that could be sneaky good in 2020 will make it tougher for the Pats to keep their longstanding streak of AFC East crowns alive.
FOX Sports: NFL tweeted the latest odds to win the AFC in wake of the Newton signing, which has the Patriots (+750) trailing only the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs (+270) and Baltimore Ravens (+330), the team with the most regular season wins in the league last year:
Now that Newton is coming to New England for a chance to win a title and prove he still has what it takes to be a starting-caliber quarterback, his odds to take home the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award have greatly improved. Cam went from falling towards the middle of the realistic contender pack at 10-1 down to 4.5-1, a line that indicates only two players are thought to have a better shot at capturing the hardware this year: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (3.5-1), who played in just one full game before being lost to injury for the 2019 season, and Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (3.5-1), who came out of retirement after one year to join Tom Brady in Tampa. It is shaping up to be a tight race—don’t count out Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt (6-1), who made a massive impact in the playoffs after missing the latter half of the 2019 regular season with a torn pectoral, or Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (7-1), who sat the final half of last year battling a back injury—but Newton could pull ahead of them all if he shows off the talent that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and helped guide the Panthers to four postseason berths—including a Super Bowl 50 appearance—during his tenure with the organization.
Unfortunately for New England fans, it is far from guaranteed that Cam will be able to recapture the form that made him one of, if not the league’s most dynamic offensive weapon at his peak. The quarterback underwent surgery for his Lisfranc injury back in December and has not been able to show how his recovery is progressing due to the league’s shifting landscape in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This surely played a significant part in why he was still available after being cut over three months ago, given personnel departments couldn’t bring the signal-caller in for workouts and get a closer look at how the foot injury may still be impacting him.
Lisfranc injuries have traditionally been tough for NFL players to recover from, especially in a relatively quick fashion. According to a study released in 2018 of 35 players to suffer one, 29 were able to continue their career after an average recovery time of 10 months, but overall started fewer games than before the injury in the three years following it and many “showed a significant decline in performance one season after return compared to preinjury levels”, with offensive players tending to suffer more substantial performance drops than defensive players.
Adam Schefter reported that only one other team—the Cleveland Browns—showed any interest in signing Newton after he was cut:
Bookmakers are not sold on Newton becoming New England’s starter for all 16 games of the 2020 NFL season either. In fact, the odds suggest that the quarterback may not even be the team’s No. 1 QB for half the campaign, with an over/under on starts by Cam set at just eight games this year. Interestingly enough, shops are projecting the newest Patriot to win the positional battle and start under center for the season opener, installing him as a -125 favorite—meaning one would have to risk $1.25 to win $1 on the outcome—over both Stidham (+110, or win $1.10 for each $1 risked) and Hoyer (+1000). It is worth noting that Newton was quite healthy, especially for a mobile QB, during the first eight years of his career, missing just five games in that span. It remains to be seen if his injury-marred 2019 was an anomaly or the new normal for Newton, a question that will determine the ceiling of a New England organization looking to forge ahead with a new quarterback for the first time in two decades.