Cam Newton released by New England. Here’s why Washington won’t sign him

Why Washington won't sign QB Cam Newton originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The New England Patriots sent shockwaves throughout the NFL on Tuesday, releasing veteran quarterback Cam Newton on the morning of the league’s cut-down day.

Newton is set to become a free agent, should he clear waivers. And, with the 32-year-old now available once again, speculation of whether Washington head coach Ron Rivera would inquire about a reunion with his old MVP passer quickly became a thing on the Internet.

Spoiler alert: it’s not happening.

Let’s start with the history. Rivera and Newton spent nine years together in Carolina and experienced tremendous success. They won four NFC South titles, highlighted by a 15-1 season and a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. Newton was also named NFL MVP that season.

That was 2015. It’s now 2021, meaning the peak of the Newton-Rivera pairing was six years ago. Newton is a far different quarterback than he was back then — and while he’s still shown flashes of his MVP talent at times — is not nearly as durable, accurate and productive as he once was.

Rivera and Newton have tremendous respect for one another. Every time Washington’s head coach has been asked about Newton since he arrived last season, Rivera has raved about his former quarterback.

But actions speak louder than words. 

When Rivera inherited a 3-13 Washington team in January of 2020, the team simply did not have a franchise quarterback. Two months later, Newton was released by Carolina. Yet, the veteran quarterback spent nearly three months as a free agent before he signed a one-year deal with New England in July.

Rivera’s reasoning for passing on Newton last summer was that he wanted to give Dwayne Haskins, Washington’s 2019 first-round pick, a full chance at being the team’s starter. Yet, Washington still gave up a fifth-round pick to acquire Kyle Allen from the Panthers in March of 2020, who started 12 games for an injured Newton in 2019.

Last summer, Rivera and Washington opted to trade a fifth-round pick to acquire Allen over signing Newton, which would not have required the team to give any draft capital away. That’s telling.

Then this past offseason, Newton was set to become a free agent once again before he re-signed with New England on a one-year deal on March 12. If the veteran figured he’d have any interest from Washington — or any other team in free agency — it’s hard to imagine he would have signed that one-year contract with the Patriots without testing the market.

Washington ended up signing Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, a player Rivera has said was high on the team’s priority list after they were unable to trade for Matthew Stafford.

“It’s no secret we tried to do a couple things early,” Rivera said in April. “But Ryan was always in that conversation. When the whole Stafford deal went and a couple other things happened, we felt we wanted to get a guy in here that has the experience and can help us going forward and can help us develop.”

While Fitzpatrick is six and a half years older than Newton, he’s been the quarterback who’s played better football as of late.

Over his last 16 starts, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 4,414 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s also added two scores with his legs. In Newton’s last 16 starts, he’s thrown for 2,990 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 picks. Yes, Newton is still an effective rusher — evident by his 12 scores on the ground last season — but has still accounted for nine fewer six-pointers over that span than Fitzpatrick.

In fact, the veteran’s recent success with Miami had Rivera say in June that “there’s nothing that says Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t be the guy for a while.”

Hypothetically, if Washington were to sign Newton, it would take a few weeks, at the minimum, for him to get acclimated in the system. Yes, he’s played for offensive coordinator Scott Turner before and likely has an understanding of the concepts that Turner wants to run. 

But, all offseason Turner has been installing an offense designed for Fitzpatrick under center. Newton’s skill set is far different than his. At this point in his career with multiple shoulder surgeries under his belt, Newton is more effective as a runner than a passer. That can’t be said about Fitzpatrick, who even has a bit of mobility in his game, too.

Fitzpatrick’s arrival in Washington should allow Turner to open up the playbook, especially dialing up big plays down the field. That was a foreign concept for Washington last season with Haskins and Alex Smith under center. If Newton were to enter the mix, a lot of the down-the-field plays would have to be scrapped once again when he’s on the field.

Fitzpatrick will be Washington’s starter in Week 1, with Taylor Heinicke as the backup. Kyle Allen is still in the mix, too. While there might not be a ‘franchise quarterback’ on the roster, the QB room is a significant upgrade from what Washington had last season.

A reunion between Rivera and Newton would be a good movie ending. But this is the NFL, not a Hollywood script. It’s not happening.

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