Cam Newton was set up to fail with the New England Patriots
Cam Newton’s fumble in the final moments of Sunday’s division game against the Buffalo Bills effectively knocked the New England Patriots out of the playoffs. But Newton isn’t the reason the Patriots have three games under .500 for the first time since Bill Clinton was president.
Much of the blame lies with Bill Belichick’s work as GM. In recent years, Belichick has skipped offensive skill positions on his roster and also struggled in the NFL Draft. The Patriots just don’t have enough talent.
The Bills beat the Patriots 24-21 in Buffalo on Sunday for the first time since 2011. They ran all over the Patriots, gaining 190 rushing yards. Josh Allen struggled for the third time in four weeks, but he ran through the New England defense for a rushing touchdown on the goal line early in the fourth period.
Going into the game, Buffalo was 26th in the league in running.
The Patriots’ defense was one of the best in the NFL last season and led them for much of the campaign. But this year they are thin on the defensive side of the ball. Belichick recently attributed the lack of depth to salary cap constraints.
“We are playing more young players than we have played in the past [for a] combination of reasons. We’ve been pretty heavily invested in our team over the past few years. From a salary cap perspective, we didn’t have a lot of flexibility at all,” he said. says Sirius XM NFL Radio.
The Patriots had eight players, an NFL high, who pulled out of the season due to Covid issues, including defensive stalwarts Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung. They also carry about 26 million in dead space. But those aren’t the only reasons their top seven continue to be outplayed every week. Simply put, Belichick hasn’t replenished the roster.
Since 2017, the Patriots have drafted 13 defensive players. None of them have emerged as playmakers. Outside linebacker Chase Winovich showed promise last season, but in recent weeks he’s been struggled to enter the field. He only recorded one tackle on Sunday.
Belichick’s penchant for trades in the NFL Draft provides the Patriots with a wealth of flexibility, but also robs them of talent. This year, the Patriots exchange from overall pick No. 23 to get pick No. 37 and pick No. 71. With overall pick No. 37, they selected Kyle Dugger, a little-known safety from little-known Division II program Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina. Dugger was out for the second straight week on Sunday due to injury.
If the Patriots had stayed in 23rd place, they could have signed linebackers Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray. The former led the Baltimore Ravens in incoming tackles Sunday; the latter is second to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Speedy rookie Brandon Aiyuk was taken to No. 25 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Armchair analysts can guess any team’s draft moves. But Belichick’s decision to trade this year clearly hurt him. And when he’s been picked at the top of the draft in recent years, he’s been a miss.
Since 2015, here are the Patriots’ first and second round picks: Malcolm Brown, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry, Jojuan Johnson, Dugger and Josh Ulce. The top three are no longer part of the team and none of the bottom six makes the difference. Harry, who was drafted ahead of stars such as DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel, had just 19 catches for a meager average of 9.1 yards per reception on Sunday.
Michel, meanwhile, has only played three games this season — and averaged 3.7 yards per game last year.
Besides Brady’s excellence, the second act of the Patriots dynasty was heavily fueled by a series of incredible drafts. Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Hightower and Aaron Hernandez were all drafted between 2010 and 2013.
Newton was not given a talent to work with. This is most evident at the tight end position, where the depth chart consists of Ryan Izzo and rookies Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi. They have eight captures between them.
Gronk does not cross this door. Instead, he’s catching touchdowns from Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
Don’t forget: The Patriots signed Newton to a one-year contract with incentives in late June for a minimum base salary of $1.05 million. Newton, 31, was coming off a Lisfranc injury and also battled a shoulder injury in his final years with the Carolina Panthers. He was a cheap quarterback for a reason.
On Sunday, Newton made a few plays with his legs before the decisive fumble, rushing nine times for 54 yards and a nifty touchdown in the red zone. But he only threw for 174 yards. It’s hard to win like that.
His main receiver was Jakobi Meyers, an undrafted receiver. New England’s anemic receiving corps also lost Julian Edelman this week. He is injured in the knee.
The Patriots’ five active receivers on Sunday were undrafted.
Most quarterbacks would struggle to succeed with these players around him. Brady himself struggled through the final weeks of last season. Newton’s contract tells you everything you need to know about his current position in the league. It’s unrealistic to expect him to win games on his own at this stage of his career.
He’s not ready for the task, and the rest of the Patriots roster isn’t good enough to carry him. Belichick left New England without talent.
The Patriots are not ready for an easy rebuild.