The Washington Football Team was relying on Ryan Fitzpatrick to be its starting quarterback in 2021. However, the 39-year-old didn’t last long in that role.
Fitzpatrick suffered a hip subluxation in Washington’s Week 1 loss to the Chargers. He was replaced by Taylor Heinicke, who is making just his third NFL start on Thursday night against the Giants.
Naturally, that has caused some to question whether Washington should pursue another quarterback to add depth to its roster. Discussions continue to circle back to Cam Newton, who has been a free agent since the Patriots surprisingly cut him before the 2021 NFL season.
Newton previously was the starting quarterback for Rivera’s Panthers from 2011 to 2019. Many believe that Washington should pursue Newton in wake of Fitzpatrick’s injury, but will they?
And what about their “Thursday Night Football” opponent, the Giants? New York’s quarterback situation is far from settled, as Daniel Jones is in the midst of a make-or-break third NFL season. Could the Giants, perhaps, consider Newton if Jones falters?
Here’s an in-depth look at where Newton might fit in as his free agency continues.
Why the Washington Football Team could use Cam Newton
Washington began the season three-deep at the quarterback position. Now, they have only two players on their active roster and practice squad with starting experience. And it’s not much.
Heinicke only made two starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He has appeared in nine games, but only last year did he really gain and traction as a legitimate backup quarterback. That came after he did yeoman’s work to keep Washington close to the Buccaneers in the team’s 31-23 Wild Card loss.
That said, it’s hard to rely on Heinicke to keep the team afloat for a full season. After all, Heinicke couldn’t even win a starting job with the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks. Jordan Ta’amu beat him for that job.
Heinicke wasn’t even in the NFL for most of last season. He was taking advanced math classes at Old Dominion last Fall before Washington offered him a practice squad spot. At that time, Heinicke was one of four quarterbacks, along with Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins and Steven Montez.
Heinicke’s lacking experience makes it difficult to predict how he’ll perform during the 6-8 weeks that Fitzpatrick is out. He could be good, but if he struggles, Washington will turn to new backup Kyle Allen. He has 17 starts to his name and is in his fourth year with Rivera, so Allen at least provides a bit more proven experience behind Heinicke.
That said, Newton has 139 starts to his name over 10 NFL seasons. So, if Washington wants to add another experienced veteran in wake of Fitzpatrick’s injury, Newton would be a solid option.
What Ron Rivera has said about signing Cam Newton
While signing Newton makes sense on paper for Washington, it doesn’t seem like Rivera has much of an interest in doing so. Rivera was asked about Newton after he was cut by the Patriots. Rivera noted that Newton had popped up on the team’s “radar,” but he was comfortable with what the team had at quarterback.
“We have three guys that we like that all came to camp, did a nice job for us and we’re going to go forward with those guys,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s tone didn’t seem to change when Fitzpatrick was declared out. The team signed Kyle Shurmur to the practice squad ahead of Week 2, but Rivera was asked about whether the team had plans to sign any other quarterbacks.
“No. As of now, no,” Rivera said. “We’ve got a short week, and we’ll go through the week, and we’ll go from there.”
Maybe Rivera will change his mind if Heinicke and Co. struggle against the Giants, but it’s worth noting that Newton became a free agent during Rivera’s first season in Washington back in 2020. The team didn’t pursue him; instead, they traded for Allen.
Additionally, Rivera expressed that he was “beyond frustrated” with his team’s low vaccination rate in late July. That could give him pause when considering Newton, who is unvaccinated.
“Now, for whatever reason, we have some reluctance to do that, to get the vaccine,” Rivera said, via ESPN. “These young men have to make the decision for themselves. Hopefully they can understand how impactful not getting the vaccine is, and you’d like to believe with all the news that’s been out there in terms of the fact that people are being hospitalized, that are dying from COVID right now, are those that aren’t vaccinated.”
Could the Giants sign Cam Newton?
The Giants seem highly unlikely to pursue a player like Newton. They are, more or less, committed to Jones as the team’s starting quarterback.
Members of the Giants organization have repeatedly complimented Jones in the lead-up to his third season. They are fans of his work ethic and character, and as Dave Gettleman has noted, Jones is entering just his second season in the Giants’ current offensive systems.
“We’re excited to see what he’s going to do in the second year in the system,” Gettleman said, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. “Before [the 2020 season], it was his third system in three years. You know how diligent the kid is, we’ve talked about it all the time. He works just as hard on the field as he does off the field. He’s more comfortable, he’s more prepared. It’ll be fun to see what happens when we finally give him a full complement of players out there.”
Jones also has the support of coach Joe Judge. The second-year coach went as far as saying that Jones has a “mastery” of the Giants’ offense.
“I’m not a big stats guy in how they evaluate everybody, especially for a quarterback and how they manage the game and facilitate around them,” Judge said. “I think [it’s impressive] when you watch him in practice have mastery of the offense. … He can steer the team in the right direction and he can make it right for the guys to go out there and operate and have success. … He’s taken these strides.”
So, while Jones has struggled during his career and has turned the ball over a whopping 40 times in 28 games (27 starts), it doesn’t seem like the Giants are looking to replace him.
Mike Glennon may not be the most inspiring backup, but signing Newton would only put more pressure on Jones. And with the Giants’ coaches and front office on the hot seat, the last thing they need is a quarterback controversy. They probably need Jones to pan out if they want to keep their jobs.
RIVERA: Will the Giants fire Joe Judge?
Why hasn’t Cam Newton been signed since the Patriots cut him?
Numerous reasons have been speculated about why Newton remains unsigned. But as a source told ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, it was mostly related to Newton’s performance and injury history.
As one source with extensive experience evaluating NFL personnel explained it, the current issue with Cam is his history of injuries and a belief that he’s not throwing the ball very well.
That report lines up somewhat with the reasons that Newton was released by the Patriots. Pro Football Network’s Adam Beasley reported that Newton’s performance compared to Mac Jones was the major issue, but Newton’s vaccination status was part of the decision as well.
There wasn’t just one reason that Cam Newton is gone. It was a combination of at least three, I’m told: Mac Jones’ emergence, Newton’s vaccination stance (which caused a bit of a stir behind the scenes) and Cam’s uninspiring performance this summer.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) August 31, 2021
Bill Belichick denied that Newton’s vaccination status played a part in his release, but it’s worth noting, as unvaccinated players are operating under more stringent COVID protocols during the 2021 NFL season. NFL coaches obsess over availability above almost all other traits, so that could certainly lengthen Newton’s stay on the free-agent market, as Florio noted.
His vaccination status surely will be an issue moving forward. At this point in his career, he’s not so clearly dominant that a team would welcome an unvaccinated Cam Newton into the locker room.
Newton is still looking for work despite his lack of success finding it since his release. He announced via Instagram that he wouldn’t retire and believe he still can be a quality NFL player.
“This is not a retirement speech, and I have a lot of football still in me,” Newton said in an Instagram post.
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