Friday Mailbag: Examining Cam Newton's play, Patriots trade options before deadline

Phil Perry
·12 min read

Perry's Mailbag: Examining Newton's play, Patriots trade options before deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Hard to throw out what happened last weekend, Megan. But I think we should -- for now, at least -- throw out what happened last weekend if we're trying to figure out who Cam Newton is in the Patriots offense right now and who he might become. Newton had more control of the passing game in Week 1 than he did in Week 6. The lack of practice time clearly impacted him. Probably more so than anyone else on the roster. The indecision, the lack of anticipation . . . it was alarming. My guess is we won't see that continue as long as the team can practice regularly. Practice will also help Newton get back on top of the mechanics that he's said he's worked on so diligently with Josh McDaniels and Jedd Fisch since arriving in Foxboro. Those seemed to be compromised thanks to Newton's time away.

The worry for the Patriots, I think, would be not if Newton is the guy we saw last weekend in an outlier situation. The worry would be if Newton is the player we saw in Week 3. The Patriots won that week, at home against the Raiders and their bottom-of-the-league defense (31st in DVOA). But Newton had four passes that could've gone for turnovers. He completed just three that traveled 10 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. Just over 60 percent of his passes were caught for less than 6.0 yards per attempt. Not ideal. 

When Newton's passing has gone sideways in the past, it's looked that way. He's been inaccurate. He's put the football in positions where it can be picked off. He ranked 30th of 35 quarterbacks in turnover-worth throw percentage in his last real season in Carolina in 2018, per Pro Football Focus. With this group of receivers -- which ranks 23rd in contested catch rate -- gambling with those kinds of throws the way he did in Week 3 could lead to some ugly results on the scoreboard. 

After back-to-back dud performances against Las Vegas and Denver, Newton's numbers through the air this season aren't pretty. He's 18th in yards per attempt (7.5) and 29th in quarterback rating (81.5). He has a 1-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio despite averaging only 6.3 air yards per attempt. He knows he needs to do more.

"I just haven't been good," he said Thursday. "I haven't matched enough good plays together for my liking. That's what it comes down to. 

"When I mean 'good plays,' I mean right reads, I mean ball positioning, I mean making guys miss. The whole gamut of how I play. I know what I'm capable of. My standard is extremely high and I haven't been meeting it. My personal standard. That's how I feel."  

His mechanics can improve. His timing with his pass-catchers can improve. Practice should help. The question is, for fans like Megan and others, how far can this Patriots offense -- and its passing offense in particular -- progress based on those things alone? Or does a trade to improve the offensive weaponry around Newton need to take place for there to be any kind of discernable leap?

I think adding a piece probably has to happen if the Patriots want to be more efficient. There's a blueprint to defending the Patriots right now. When teams take away the run and rob short-to-intermediate routes, McDaniels simply doesn't have the players to threaten defenses vertically. Damiere Byrd seems to be the only player with the speed to challenge defenses in that area of the field. Without another reliably explosive threat, it's easier to take away what Newton and the Patriots do well.

I don't think so. I'm not sure they were good enough to be in the race -- really in the race -- to begin with. Their offensive and defensive lines are not good. Tua Tagovailoa, who obviously has just overcome a serious injury, needs to be ready to get rid of the football quickly in order to protect himself. If he doesn't, behind that line, Ryan Fitzpatrick might be back in sooner than he's anticipating.

I assume Russ is reading this mailbag right now. Russ, hi. Let us know if you've got a few more plays in you. But I don't think Asiasi is in the doghouse. He played 24 snaps last weekend. That was up from just eight in Kansas City. Almost half those snaps resulted in him running routes. Newton just has to look his way if he gets to him in his progression. Can't imagine there are many plays where he's the No. 1. But if Ryan Izzo can see targets, so too should Asiasi. 

"He’s a young player that’s getting it," Newton said of Asiasi, "and hopefully we get an opportunity -- or you guys, or everybody sees his growth and maturation over these last couple days and weeks, and he gets involved in the game-plan. I even told him, just like I tell all the receivers and skill-position players – let’s not get into that habit of thinking you only can be productive because of how many catches you get. I think that’s the immature way of thinking. Production comes when you’re asked to do something, how do you fare up against what your assignment was. He’s a guy who is getting coached hard each and every day, and he knows what the standard is . . . I do believe, I have full faith in not only Devin, but everybody that’s in that room so when their number is called, I don’t blink. Just give them the opportunity when it’s given."

If you want to talk canine abodes, Izzo might be in one based on what we heard from Bill Belichick during his mic'd up segment from last weekend's game. After Izzo's fumble last weekend, Belichick reminded him that they do drills to guard exactly that kind of mistake.

Jimmy Garoppolo could end up here if he's released by the Niners. Garoppolo would count just under $3 million against the San Francisco cap next season if released so it's not totally out of the realm of possibility. The Patriots could trade for him, though they'd likely want him on a new contract. At the moment, Garoppolo is scheduled to receive base salaries of over $24 million each year over the next two. That's a lot for a player who's trending more toward average than very good.

As far as a Gilmore trade goes, sure. If you can find a tight end -- maybe a tight end and a pick? -- that'd make sense. (I'd focus on the receiver position, personally.) But getting good value in return for Gilmore could be tricky, particularly if an acquiring team is going to have to give up draft-pick compensation and a lucrative new contract to keep him in house. If there are buyers, it could be hard to find those kinds of buyers in a year when teams are looking ahead to next season's cap maybe falling to $175 million. 

Wouldn't surprise me if we saw some change this week. They have depth there. They like Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski enough to keep them rostered. They like Isaiah Zuber enough to get him up from the practice squad every so often. Julian Edelman is dealing with injury. N'Keal Harry garnered just two targets last week. Harry is the player they really need to emerge. He should be the other explosive threat opposite Byrd. Just hasn't been that guy yet.

He's played in 13 games. He has 32 catches on 61 targets. It's too soon to write him off. He's not Laquon Treadwell. But he's also not Anquan Boldin, which is one of the comps he received coming out of Arizona State. There's just a consistency element missing from him at the moment. He flashed in Week 2. We've seen little since. He's flashed as a blocker, but that hasn't consistently been there as part of his week-in-week-out play, either. The hope for the Patriots has to be that he can improve to the point that he is the outside-the-numbers player they need. At the very least, he should be the type of player who can be productive with a few designed touches -- screens, end-arounds -- per game. That he didn't get a single touch against the Broncos, to me, was telling. 

He's not going to be able to block in-line. He's 225 pounds, not 250. If you want to move him into the slot more often, use him as a "big slot," I think that'd make sense. He won't win inside the same way Edelman does, with quickness. But he could, in theory, win the same way a "big slot" would with size and physicality. Here's the issue: If he's moved into the slot, now that outside-the-numbers option the team needs is vacant. It might be a better fit for him, but not sure it makes the Patriots a better offense.

If Harry isn't where the Patriots want him to be, I'd trade for someone who can play outside the numbers. That's not usually Tate's game. I actually don't hate the idea of making a move for AJ Green. He's in the last year of his deal. He seems unhappy in Cincinnati. He can still play outside. He should be the kind of receiver with whom Newton has thrived in the past, able to make contested catches. Would he still garner respect from defenses? I don't know. And that's kind of what they need in order to get defenders out of the box who are set on stopping the run. But if he could be had for a third or fourth-round pick -- probably what the Bengals would receive via the compensatory formula in 2022 -- then I'd consider it. 

Let's go rapid fire here to take on a bunch more...

He's still under contract for 2021. Would probably have to trade for him. Don't see that happening within the division. But if Newton is back on the tag next year and the Patriots are looking again in 2022? Darnold as a free agent? Probably low-cost? I'd be all for it. I liked his talent a lot coming out of USC a few years ago. He's been ruined in a brutal situation. Think he could have a renaissance similar to another quarterback who recently got out from under Adam Gase: Ryan Tannehill.

Yes. That would make sense. I think 2-5 would be hard to come back from. Is 9-7 still in play at that point? Sure. But we've never seen the Patriots handle that kind of record under Bill Belichick. Would be uncharted territory for them... and for those of us covering them. Makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what they'd do.

a) Crowd the line of scrimmage. Play man-to-man. Set an edge against end-arounds and wide-zone runs. Make Jimmy Garoppolo beat you down the field. That's not his game. b) Lawrence (if he's here -- I see what you did there), Allen, Tua.

That wouldn't shock me. To miss as much time as he has, might be asking him a lot to jump in immediately and expect him to play a real role. Crazier things have happened, though, and the Patriots need all the help they can get against a good run offense. Offenses like San Fran's (and Baltimore's) are why Allen is here. They want to run.

Highly doubt it.

Love that. Throw an umlaut on there and we're talking. Make it a t-shirt.