Cam Newton remains a free agent.
It may fall short of stunning to say — the only shocking bit is how long Newton has been a free agent — but we shouldn't let his continued hiatus on the waiver wire dull the sensation of the 2015 NFL MVP is in this spot five short years later.
The NFL stands for Not For Long, and things change at the drop of a hat. But Newton remains an extremely talented passer in a league that likes those; how is he still unsigned?
The why has been long discussed and debated and will continue to be until he finds a team. It is worth wondering, however, how big of an impact Newton can have if and when he is signed.
Is Newton a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback? Only if he’s on the right team, and most of those right teams already have their quarterback. Newton isn't going to get signed by the 49ers, the Saints or even a fringe team like the Bills or Broncos, who have exciting rosters that are conditional on young and potentially volatile quarterbacks. Barring an injury to an existing starter, there is only one team that Newton could immediately grab a starting job: the Patriots; and they are clearly committed to starting the season with Jarrett Stidham.
Newton will most likely sign as a replacement for an injured starter, and the impact he'll have is conditional on the team he joins. Newton, however, is clearly a starter that can win, and any team with playoff aspirations who loses their starting passer would look to add Newton accordingly. He is multiple wins better than almost every backup in the league and has the added value of being a dual threat, which is an even trickier contingency plan to prepare for because of what it lets teams change from an offensive scheme perspective.
Newton wasn't signed by the Bears, despite his talent level and scheme fit, as reported by The Athletic's Michael Lombardi, largely because they knew that Newton was going to beat out Mitchell Trubisky and take the starting job; Chicago wanted to push its young passer without completely shutting the door on the starting job he'd be competing for. If that doesn't tell you the sort of impact teams anticipate from Newton, who is still targeting a starting salary, I don't know what does.
Is there any other offensive free agent who could have the same impact as Newton? The best names remaining include guard Larry Warford, a perennial Pro Bowl player; tackle Jason Peters, a high-caliber veteran at a key position with a dearth of talent across the league and Devonta Freeman, a solid running back. Placing Peters on a team like the Chargers or Broncos or Warford on a team like the Bengals or Jets could indeed represent a huge boost of the players they'd replace. But to the degree to which Newton would add wins? Nobody comes close.
Among the remaining free agents, Peters would make the biggest impact in 2020, even though Warford is the better player. Peters plays a position that matters more, and while he doesn't perform at the same level he once did, he remains an extremely practiced and versatile veteran who can execute a full range of pass sets and blocking schemes successfully. The hesitation around Peters' age and health is understandable given his extensive injury history, and the same difficulties of getting a clean physical that limit Newton is also limiting Peters; but when Peters is signed, he'll start for a team in 2020 and provide quality play.
But the 2020 season could very well end up a season defined by Newton, despite all of the stunning moves of during the offseason. For the value he brings as an early-season addition to a competitive roster, he could end up a bigger competitive advantage than any of the veteran QB moves this year, including Tom Brady to the Buccaneers and Philip Rivers to the Colts.
Newton could go from the last player off the free-agent market this year to the first one off it next year if he can take this 2020 season to prove he's healthy, back and as dangerous as ever.