S-Cam: How The NFL Let a Former League MVP Sign a Minimum Contract
Picture an imaginary NFL quarterback. Let’s call him Dave. Dave is 6’ 5’’ and 245 pounds. He is mobile and has a strong arm. Just five years ago Dave led a 15-1 team to the Super Bowl and was named league MVP. During this season he had a passer rating of 99.4, throwing for 35 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more. Now, at the age of 31, Dave has hit the open market. How much will teams be willing to pay him to secure his services? Maybe they give him a 4-year, $160 million deal like what Deshaun Watson, a less accomplished quarterback, just received? Maybe more? Turns out that Dave is a real quarterback. His name is Cameron Jerrell Newton, and he recently signed a one-year deal with the Patriots, his one and only suitor, for $1.05 million in base salary, the minimum for a player with his number of years in the league. How did this happen?
One reason could be his injury history. Like most NFL players, Cam has had his fair share of injuries throughout his career; however, until recently, he could be considered a relatively durable quarterback. In 2017 and 2019 he had injuries to his shoulder that required surgery, and last year he was only able to play two games before sitting the rest of the season with a Lisfranc injury. This was a cause for concern for many teams, especially because they could not get team doctors to take a look at Cam due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While his recent injury history is troubling, how is it possible a team didn’t want to take a chance on someone with so much upside? One explanation for this could be that, following the draft, most teams already had their starting quarterback. Even the teams that performed poorly in 2019 had a plan that did not involve Cam. Take the teams that finished in the bottom five in the standings last year: Cincinnati, Washington, Detroit, New York Giants, and Miami. Cincinnati drafted Joe Burrow, Washington had Dwayne Haskins, Detroit stuck with Mathew Stafford, the Giants had Daniel Jones, and Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa.
During his free agency, Cam came out and said that he would be willing to be a backup quarterback. So, even if every team already had their starting quarterback, why not try and sign him as a backup? The answer to this question could be that he has a very distinct personality and brand which does not fit into many organizations, especially when taking the role of a backup. He is known for his bold fashion statements and his Superman touchdown celebrations. Colin Cowherd, a sports talk show host, has continually stated that quiet teams win championships, and Cam is far from quiet. Owners may be fine with having someone who acts like Cam as their starting quarterback because it can be fun for fans and good for business, but as a backup, he may just be a distraction.
The last line of reasoning explaining why Cam was not as sought after as one would expect is his ethnicity. He is a black man who plays the quarterback position. Shannon Sharpe, a Hall of Famer and prominent analyst, argues that because of this he is held to a higher standard. Sharpe points out that when black quarterbacks argue with their coaches it is seen as behavior that is not conducive to winning, while when white quarterbacks do the same thing it is seen as passion. He also claims that, as opposed to black quarterbacks, white quarterbacks are often given the benefit of the doubt. Sharpe cites examples like Brett Farve who signed for $12 million guaranteed after throwing 22 interceptions, or Drew Brees who “almost ripped his shoulder out of the socket in San Diego and got 6 years, $60M, $10M signing bonus from New Orleans.” Sharpe seems to be making legitimate points, which are only reinforced by the fact that there are only two team owners of color, both of which are not black.
Cam is now off to a good start this season with the Patriots. In his first game, he had a completion percentage of 78.95% in a win against Miami, and he threw for almost 400 yards against Seattle the next week. As of right now, it would seem as though teams made a mistake passing on Cam and letting him fall into the lap of Belichick and the Patriots. For the rest of the season, front offices will likely regret not picking up the former MVP for less than what they pay their punter.