“Cam’s the type of player that works on things that he’s not as good at … and that’s something I really respect about him.”
“He gets along with everybody, he’s very social and has a great presence.”
“He’s very, very competitive on the field … I would put him in the top echelon of that.”
“It’s important for him to be the first guy up the hill when we run sprints. It’s important for him to be first in everything that he competes in.”
Goodness. This from the coach who referred to Tom Brady only in prepared statements this offseason. Who, when he signed Antonio Brown last year, said, “We’ll just have to see how that goes.” Who, when he added Darrelle Revis in 2014, said, “Revis is a good player. I’m glad we have him.”
It’s not as if Belichick doesn’t praise his players in public; he does often, in fact. It’s that he doesn’t usually do it for a star player who hasn’t yet played a snap for the Patriots. Belichick is never the one driving the Hype Train.
But he sure is with Newton. The question is, why?
I have come up with five theories. In no particular order:
1. It’s all true.
It’s not hard to imagine that everything Belichick said is true. Newton has always been known to have an electric personality, and it’s easy to see why his new teammates naturally gravitate toward him as a leader. And the Patriots ensured that they got a hungry, motivated Newton when they signed him to a one-year contract this summer.
This is Newton’s big opportunity — to prove that he can stay healthy, and that, at 31, he’s still one of the biggest, baddest quarterbacks in the game and worthy of being a franchise QB.
And not only were the Patriots one of the few teams willing to give Newton the platform, he gets to do it with the greatest coach in the modern NFL behind him.
I don’t doubt for a second that Newton has been one of the Patriots’ hardest workers and most competitive players. He knows this is a great opportunity, and he knows he needs to make the most of it.
2. Belichick’s icy heart is melting.
Maybe Belichick, at 68, is getting soft. He doesn’t have a whole lot to complain about these days. He has six Super Bowl rings, both of his sons are on his coaching staff, he’s doing Subway commercials, and he spent five months on Nantucket riding out the quarantine.
Newton isn’t the only one receiving praise from the coach, either. Belichick had a lot of nice words to say about rookie safety Kyle Dugger a week ago, including that he has seen improvement “not only from day to day, but in some cases from play to play.”
3. He’s taking a swipe at Brady.
Several times over the last few seasons, word emerged that Brady didn’t feel much appreciated by Belichick or the Patriots.
You remember the big moments. Gisele Bundchen said it on “Tom vs. Time” in the days leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl: “He tells me, ‘I love it so much, and I just want to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.’ ”
That spring, Brady was asked by Jim Gray if he felt appreciated by the Patriots and he answered, “I plead the fifth.”
And, of course, an ESPN the Magazine article said Brady was miffed that Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t traded after the Super Bowl win over the Falcons, and that Brady never won the “Patriot of the Week” award in his MVP season.
Not long after Brady leaves, Belichick starts fawning over his new quarterback and gushes to the world about how much he respects him? That can’t be a coincidence.
The follow-up question: Why would Belichick need to take a swipe at Brady? I can’t say for sure, but perhaps it was a preemptive strike against the new Patriots book coming out, “The Dynasty.”
In the excerpt published last weekend in the New York Post, you’ll notice that while Brady is made out to be a hero for playing through a thumb laceration so severe that he thought it would force him into retirement, Belichick is constantly described in negative terms: “scowling,” “groused,” “glared.”
The excerpt ends with Belichick making light of Brady’s injury: “We’re not talking about open heart surgery here.”
Belichick is certainly not portrayed well. I’m guessing that wasn’t Belichick’s doing.
4. He’s not thrilled with Jarrett Stidham’s performance.
The hype surrounding Stidham this offseason wasn’t justified and wasn’t his fault. He’s a fourth-round pick with one year of NFL experience and four passes on his résumé — one of them a pick-6. Yet some fans and media assumed that, because he was hand-picked by Belichick, Stidham was going to be the next franchise quarterback. Sorry, but fourth-round picks usually don’t turn out that way.
Even with unfair expectations, Stidham’s performance in camp has to go down as a big disappointment. He didn’t rise to the challenge, at one point throwing seven interceptions over a three-day stretch. Then he suffered a lower-body injury that affected him for several days and limited his reps.
If you can’t get through a training camp healthy, how can Belichick trust you to stay healthy as the starting quarterback?
When Belichick says Newton is the first one in the building and last one to leave, and how he always wants to finish first in sprints, by definition it means Stidham isn’t doing those things. And I think Belichick wants Stidham to realize that that is what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
5. He’s buttering up Newton for a new contract.
Newton is going to be a free agent after this season, but there’s no reason he can’t continue his career in New England. The Patriots will have exclusive negotiating rights until March, and if Belichick continues to like what he sees, Newton theoretically could be the Patriots quarterback for several more years.
If Newton has a great season, he’ll have suitors and big offers (Ryan Tannehill just got $91 million guaranteed over three years). So it would be a smart play by Belichick to start heaping praise on Newton now and create an environment that Newton would want to continue past this year.
That way, Newton may not be so offended, and may actually bite, when Belichick inevitably comes to him with a massively below-market contract offer in November.