Why Patriots Were Right to Pick Cam Newton over Colin Kaepernick

If Colin Kaepernick is to make a return to the NFL, he won't do so with the New England Patriots, who signed free agent Cam Newton on Sunday.

With Tom Brady leaving New England after a two success-laden decades to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, the six-time Super Bowl champions were left with 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham and 11-year veteran Bryan Hoyer at the top of their depth chart.

While Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has reiterated he was happy to go forward with Stidham and Hoyer, landing Newton on a one-year contract worth $7.5 million—most of which are in incentives, according to ESPN—was a no-brainer for the Patriots.

"It's impossible to know what Newton has left, but I think this is a move that makes sense for both sides," said Sheil Kapadia, NFL writer for The Athletic.

"The Patriots didn't have a real solution at quarterback and now can take a flier on Newton, and Newton gets a chance to show he can stay healthy and have a productive second phase of his career."

Newton's arrival in New England, however, closes yet another door for Kaepernick, who is still looking for a return to the NFL after becoming a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.

The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been persona non grata in the NFL since he began a peaceful protest against police brutality and racial discrimination by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

The gesture transformed him into a global icon, but split public opinion in the U.S. and contributed to him being ostracized by the league.

When he was not offered a tryout by any of the 32 franchises, he sued the owners for colluding to keep him out of the league, before reaching a settlement with the NFL in February 2019.

In December last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had "moved on" from Kaepernick, after the 32-year-old moved a workout the NFL had organized a month earlier.

Earlier this month, however, Goodell struck a far more conciliatory tone and encouraged teams to sign the former Nevada alumnus, while even President Donald Trump—one of Kapernick's most vocal opponents—said he would support his return.

Three weeks ago, Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy encouraged the Patriots to sign Kaepernick, while former Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre and Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn both have called for the quarterback to return to the NFL.

The Patriots, however, have opted for Newton instead.

While there are significant question marks over the former NFL MVP's fitness—he missed the last two games of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury and was shut down after two weeks last season after suffering a Lisfranc fracture—Newton remains one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league when fully fit.

As Around the NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal noted: "If Newton is healthy, I'm not that interested in the quarterback battle stories that will arise from Belichick not revealing anything in August.

"A healthy Newton is going to win that battle [with Stidham] 10 times out of 10 and will force the Patriots to build the offense around him."

From a purely football perspective, Newton is a better player than Kaepernick.

In eight full seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Newton averaged 3,558 passing yards and 22.7 touchdown passes per season and in his last full year before his injuries troubles began, he threw for 3,395 yards and 24 touchdowns in 14 games, completing 67.5 percent of his passes.

In 2015, Newton led the Panthers to a 15-1 season, was named NFL MVP and took Carolina to Super Bowl 50.

In contrast, during four seasons as a starter in San Francisco, Kaepernick averaged 2,605 passing yards and 15.5 touchdown passes per year—although he missed 11 games across the four seasons, six more than Newton did over his eight-year spell as a starter in Carolina.

In his final season with the 49ers, he finished with 2,241 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes and a relatively mediocre 59.2 percent completion ratio.

The former Panthers quarterback rushed for 4,806 yards during his eight seasons in the league, more than double Kaepernick's 2,300.

Like Newton, the latter took his team to a Super Bowl and, like Newton, he fell just short of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. Newton led the Panthers to a winning record three times during his spell in Carolina, while Kaepernick achieved the feat twice for the 49ers—although just once while starting all the 16 regular season games.

Time and age are also a factor. While Newton's last two seasons have been lost to injuries and he last played a full campaign in 2018, Kaepernick hasn't played professional football since the end of the 2016 season and will be 33 in November, while Newton turned 31 only last month.

The Patriots' decision doesn't spell the end of the road Kaepernick, but may make an already difficult return to the NFL slightly more complicated.

Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton
Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers after the Panthers beat the 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Ezra Shaw/Getty