If your answer is Tampa Bay’s signing of living legend Tom Brady, you’d probably be in the majority.
But I argue that New England bringing in Cam Newton as Brady’s successor will turn out to be the signing of the year.
Here are my 5 reasons why:
1. The Patriots’ upside with the talented but mercurial Newton is higher than Tampa Bay’s ceiling with Brady. Why? It’s pretty simple. Newton is healthy for the first time in at least two seasons and, at age 31, he is in his prime. Let’s not forget Newton is an elite talent, a dynamic dual threat player who makes New England’s offense much more dangerous, and it’s paired with what on paper looks like a stout defense. Brady is the greatest NFL quarterback so far. A place in the Hall of Fame awaits him, and he’s a major ticket seller in Tampa Bay. He is as fit a 43-year-old as you’ll ever see, but his arm is not what it used to be, and it was never as strong as Newton’s. Tampa also has more holes to patch. The Bucs will still face quite a challenge to overtake the New Orleans Saints, home to Drew Brees, the actual best quarterback in the always-tough NFC South.
2. Brady has won six Super Bowls, Newton has zero, so what gives? The law of averages says the 43-year-old Brady has won all the Super Bowls he’s going to win. If Brady were to get one more in Tampa, that would be remarkable, and you can never count him out. It could happen. I say he gets Tampa to the playoffs, but not the promised land. As for Newton, it’s not like he doesn’t know how to win. He won a national championship at Auburn, he won the Heisman Trophy and he’s already been to one Super Bowl. If you look at the total package, there are a lot more ingredients for success in New England this season than in Tampa Bay.
3. Brady has something to prove, Newton has something to prove – and so does Bill Belichick. If neither Brady nor Belichick ever wins another Super Bowl, they’re still legends. Here’s the thing: Neither the quarterback nor the coach has won the big game without each other. You can be sure both men want to show what they can do surrounded by different casts. Then there’s Newton, who is highly motivated to show the world that the Carolina Panthers made a big mistake in giving up on him. Add it all up and I’d say the combo of Belichick and Newton – with elite offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels – gives New England the edge. No one is better at “evolving” his team than Belichick, especially during the season. That’s why the Patriots have won their division for 11 straight seasons. That is a spectacular achievement rarely seen in pro sports. This year they make it a dozen.
4. NFL fans seem to have forgotten Newton is among the most talented quarterbacks in the league. Yes, he is a lightning rod for criticism, whether it be his answers at a news conference, the clothes he wears, the cockiness he exudes. Whatever we’ve seen out of Cam in the past, I expect we’ll see him at his best this season. There is no doubt the man can play football. He throws for more than 3,000 yards almost every year, he has 58 rushing touchdowns, he was the NFL MVP in 2015. There is nothing he hasn’t seen and now he finds himself joining the league’s most stable and accomplished franchise.
5. Watch out for the superstar with a 1-year contract. New England had nothing to lose by bringing in Newton on a one-year, incentive-laden contract. Did anyone really believe the Pats would turn to Jarrett Stidham (talented but young) or Brian Hoyer (not that talented or young) after Brady departed? With Newton, the Pats get an experienced player whose skills are undeniable. If McDaniels can coach Newton out of making the bad decisions he sometimes makes, you can be sure he’ll make plenty of great plays. He’s been somewhat in obscurity in Carolina the past few seasons, but not this year. When you take over for Tom Brady, the pressure is on. Newton is not afraid. He’ll be ready to play and New England returns as a serious challenger in the AFC to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.