Cam Newton’s contract with Patriots looks just like Ryan Tannehill deal that sparked Titans' 2019 playoff run

Sporting News

Much is made of how Bill Belichick's understudies, once they land head-coaching jobs of their own, try to duplicate the qualities and strategies the Patriots coach has used to build a 20-year dynasty in New England. But part of Belichick's genius is his willingness to evolve and experiment, even if it means copycatting a disciple.

So maybe Belichick did not look at former Patriots player Mike Vrabel's Titans as an example of how to approach a season with uncertainty at quarterback, a situation New England faces for the first time in 20 years after Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers in free agency.

Or maybe he did, because the reported details of Cam Newton's one-year contract with the Patriots make it look a lot like the deal Ryan Tannehill signed with the Titans last year after Miami traded him to Tennessee.

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Tannehill, of course, had the best 10-game stretch of his career in the 2019 regular season, earning some darkhorse MVP praise before helping Tennessee upset New England and Baltimore to reach the AFC championship game. In March, the Titans rewarded him with a four-year extension. What happened to the Titans and Tannehill last season is a perfect example of the best-case scenario for the Patriots and Newton this season.

According to NFL Network, Newton's one-year contract with the Patriots is "a bare minimum deal" that, if the quarterback hits incentives, will pay him up to $7.5 million in 2020. As 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman notes, it's ridiculously cheap for a player who a couple years ago was playing MVP-caliber football before injuries took their toll.

Spotrac on Sunday night pointed out the similarities between the deal Newton reportedly signed this year and the contract Tannehill signed with the Titans last year. Tannehill was given a one-year deal worth $2 million and $4 million of possible incentives. He ended up earning almost $5.5 million.

When it traded for and signed Tannehill, Tennessee was apprehensive about entering the 2019 season with Marcus Mariota as its unquestioned starter. The team figured: Why not bring in Tannehill, a 30-year-old passer looking to resurrect his career with a new franchise, on a low-risk deal?

Likewise, New England seems apprehensive about entering the 2020 season with Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer as its starter. The team figures: Why not bring in Newton, a 31-year-old passer looking to resurrect his career with a new franchise, on a low-risk deal?

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ESPN's Adam Schefter raised an important point Sunday night in the context of the Patriots' timing, as New England will lose a 2021 third-round draft pick as part of their NFL-imposed punishment for videotaping the Bengals' sideline last year. If Newton were to start and play well enough in 2020 and then leave as a free agent the following year, the Patriots could get a 2022 compensatory pick.

That would have been the case for the Titans in 2020 had they let Tannehill go in free agency. Instead, Tannehill agreed to a $118 million contract extension that guarantees him at least $62 million over the next four years.

For the same reasons Newton lasted on the free agency market until late June — there are questions about his health after shoulder and foot injuries ruined his 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively — he might not succeed in New England. As evidenced by the fact that Tannehill didn't begin last season as the starter, Tennessee faced the same possibility.

But like the Patriots this year, the Titans last year faced little-to-no risk with their veteran quarterback signing; only the kind of reward that manifested in the form of a pair of playoff wins.

The Titans did that with an apprentice at head coach and a quarterback who had never won more than eight games in a season as starter.

The Patriots are doing it with the master at head coach and a quarterback who is a former league MVP.

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