16 July 2020 06:39
Cam Newton opens up about replacing Tom Brady, excitement about Patriots offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston A lot has changed since the Patriots announced on March 16 that they intended to use the franchise tag as a way to buy themselves time to strike a long-term deal with offensive lineman Joe Thuney. That's made long-term agreements--the likes of which Thuney and others on the franchise tag wouldn't mind--hard to come by. The Patriots let the NFL's 4 p.m. deadline to come to a long-term contract agreement with players on the franchise tag come and go Wednesday. The good news for Thuney is that a player of his caliber--someone who could conceivably reset the market at his position--still will likely get what he's owed even if COVID ravages the finances of teams around the NFL down the road. "Very good-to-great players will get paid by somebody regardless where next year's salary cap is set," former NFL agent and CBS analyst Joel Corry told me.
The tag would allow Belichick time to acquire more information about Jarrett Stidham, the state of his roster and how close his team is to a title before handing a record-setting, five-year deal to an offensive lineman. Important as Thuney has been to the team's success the last four years, doing a long-term deal for a guard on a team that could be retooling for multiple seasons isn't the same as paying a guard who helps solidify a championship-caliber roster. Though the Patriots can't come to a long-term agreement with Thuney until after the season, they can still make a move with Thuney in order to free up salary cap space. Unless the need for more cap room rears its head; unless the Patriots can't fathom paying big-money second contracts to both of their starting guards (Shaq Mason averages $9 million on the five-year extension he signed in 2018); unless a trade package presents itself Belichick can't pass up, Thuney will be in the fold in New England for at least one more year with a chance to hit the market again for the first time in 2021. Their 3.8 yards per rushing attempt was 28th last season, and their success rate on third down (38.3 percent) was 17th.
When he was last healthy enough to play the majority of a season, he and the Panthers ran the most efficient goal-line offense in football. We mentioned above that play-for-play the Patriots were 22nd in terms of red zone success rate in 2019. The Patriots were 15th in passing success rate in the red zone last season and 25th in rushing success rate. But with Newton behind center for the Panthers in 2018, they were better off than the 2019 Patriots in just about every red-zone category. And before Newton suffered a hard hit to his shoulder halfway through 2018--when it was looking like his 2018 performance would rival his MVP season in 2015--the Panthers were even better down in close.
That was largely thanks to Newton's rushing ability, as he was 77 percent successful carrying the football in those spots, 14th in the NFL among runners (all positions) with at least nine such attempts. By comparison, Patriots running back Sony Michel has had a 64 percent success rate in the same scenario in both of his two pro seasons. Between 2016 and 2018, Newton was successful on a whopping 82 percent of his carries on third- or fourth-and-short. For the first time in Belichick's tenure with the Patriots, he'll go into a season pursuing situational precision with a quarterback not named Brady.