Assuming this trainwreck of an NFL summer is about to begin, at least we now know who will be driving the train.
Bill Belichick and Cam Newton.
In a daring transaction designed either to keep the Patriots in championship form or to distract us from yet another New England crime against football, Belichick plucked Newton off the trash heap of free agency and gave us yet another headline in this year of unforgettable moments.
And on the same day that those headlines would have read something about the Patriots' latest cheating penalty, Belichick managed to rewrite them for us with a move that is destined to be studied from Cambridge to the Carolinas.
Newton will join current New England quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer in a battle for one job. That it happens to be the most recognizable job in all of sports seems to suggest that Newton, the most recognizable quarterback not named Tom Brady, will be a perfect fit.
So instead of Tampa Bay and Brady becoming the only story of summer camp, we now get a parallel story about the former Panthers quarterback getting a second chance to become the most visible player in the game.
Carolina, destined to be the caboose in this trainwreck, looks very small in comparison. Once again, the Panthers are completely out of the spotlight.
Just last week, new Carolina coach Matt Ruhle was asked whether he’d done Newton wrong by releasing him so late in process. Ruhle stammered for several seconds, never really completing a sentence.
Of course the Panthers did Newton wrong. And of course this has already come back to haunt them.
Brady and his personal chef will move to Tampa, while Newton and his personal tailor will move to Massachusetts. And absolutely no one is talking about Carolina, at least not in a positive light.
The biggest news out of Uptown this summer has been the removal of Jerry Richardson’s statue during a national revival of morality, lumping the Panthers’ founder in a heap of fallen heroes, false idols and bronze blowhards.
Letting the best player the franchise ever had just walk away at age 31 is a sign of the times, too. The decision to fire Newton and hire the New Orleans backup is a bad look. But we’ll wait and see how it looks on the actual football field, assuming they play this year.
Newton’s workouts seem to suggest he’s healthy again. His footwork looked sharp. His arm strength seems normal, considering the wear and tear on his shoulder. He’s sure to be motivated. And he’ll now have an actual NFL offensive line to protect him.
And he’ll have Belichick.
He’s been known to revive careers of fallen free agents before. And it’s highly unlikely that he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are watching film and designing an offense around Hoyer right now.
The Patriots played this smartly, waiting out the Panthers and a league of football minds scared to death of their own shadow, much less that of Newton. They got a former league MVP who could have years left instead of a few months like Brady. And they got him for basically nothing in football money.
So this is a win for everyone except the Panthers, who will begin a slow rebuild waiting for new practice facilities, a new stadium and new players.
New England is simply going through a makeover, something Belichick does every year. Except this year, the makeover might include the Patriots mascot wearing a scarf.
This was brilliant in football terms and PR. No one is talking about New England having to pay the league $1.1 million for videoing the Bengals sideline during a 2019 game. No one will notice the missing third-round draft pick in 2021 the league took from the Patriots.
Everyone will notice Newton. We can’t take our eyes off him, and now he’ll be wearing a different shade of blue and possibly playing the most glamorous position in all of sports, the quarterback of the New England Patriots.
That won’t be Tom Brady, and it won’t be Teddy Bridgewater.
That will be Cam Newton driving the train as Carolina watches a fading caboose, all likely headed toward the same thing this season.