Cam Newton Is The Ultimate Low Risk, High Reward Signing

For the past three months, the New England Patriots led us to believe that they were going to give up.  They were going to replace the best quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady with a fourth-round pick that no one really knew about when countless other options existed on the market.  It was the most Patriots thing ever, and because of their resume, it also didn’t seem like the most ridiculous thing ever.

Turns out, giving up was likely never their plan after all.

Sure, Cam Newton could have been scooped up by any other team over the past three months, but according to multiple reports, New England’s minimum, incentive-based deal was the former Carolina quarterback’s only offer, which coincided slyly with the NFL enforcing penalties on the Patriots due to them allegedly taping the Cincinnati Bengals illegally.

The Patriots had to be prepared for a world where they couldn’t sign Newton, which means they had at least some confidence in second year QB Jarrett Stidham going forward.  But it was never as much as they had previously indicated.

How we got here is still stunning but also makes sense.  Newton’s health has been a massive question mark the past two years – he’s dealt with a foot injury and a shoulder injury which never seemed to go away. Any team signing him to be a starter right after his release was risky, since the coronavirus pandemic didn’t allow teams to do medical checks.  Signing him to be a backup would have created a media controversy over who a team’s actual starting QB was, especially if that team that may not have the best current situation at the position.  

These factors seriously limited Newton’s options – teams like New England or the Chargers were the only places that made sense, and the Chargers made it clear after the draft that they were out.  So, New England let the market cool, knowing they had no competition for his services, and was able to slide him in on a bargain deal rather than blindly pay a large number shortly after his release.

With his health the x-factor, it seems odd that the Patriots would go about signing Newton and presumably make him the starter if they didn’t believe he was healthy.  Why create excitement when you’re not sure?  Additionally, bringing someone in to challenge your young QB in Stidham could hurt the second year signal-caller’s confidence.  If Newton gets hurt or doesn’t play well, pivoting to Stidham shows that the franchise didn’t believe in him as much as they led onto the past couple months.

On the other hand, New England is only out the NFL’s minimum salary if the Newton acquisition doesn’t work out, and if it does, the contract tops out at $7.5 million, which isn’t much either.  Plus, it did serve as a cover for the penalties handed down by the NFL Sunday night, and it certainly worked.  You couldn’t find a story about the penalties anywhere on ESPN.com’s home page Monday – it was all Newton content instead.

Ultimately, the Patriots still might have two really good options here.  Newton could be healthy – and good – and suddenly New England is a Super Bowl contender thanks to one of the league’s best defenses and an above-average quarterback at the helm.  Or, Newton isn’t healthy and/or doesn’t play well, the Patriots owe him nothing, and New England is still content with handing the reigns over to Stidham, despite his confidence maybe being hurt a little bit.  Again, Stidham had to be in the Patriots plans, even if he was Option C.  There was absolutely world – probably a non-pandemic world – where they lose Newton.  There, they would’ve had to pivot to Stidham.  If he wasn’t in their plans, they would have gone after an Andy Dalton or Ryan Tannehill mold or drafted someone.

Touting the Patriots as contenders might seem generous, but let’s lay out the case.  This operates as if health isn’t a question, because as noted, this move may not make much sense if the Patriots have questions about his health.  Newton has never been worse than average healthy.  If Carolina’s been bad, it’s been due to other injuries on the roster or a pure lack of talent around Newton, something that they’ve struggled with for years thanks to David Gettleman at GM and a defensive-minded head coach in Ron Rivera.  Their 6-10 season after Newton’s MVP-winning, 15-1 season could be pinned on the beginning of his shoulder problems – he had surgery after the season to repair his rotator cuff.  The year after, in 2017-18, Newton and the Panthers went 11-5 with Newton leading the team in rushing and Devin Funchess as the leading receiver.  It was Newton carrying the offense, with Christian McCaffrey being misused and Greg Olsen as the most talented pass-catcher.  

The following two years led to more shoulder problems and a foot injury, which led to his season being over this past Fall and his eventual release from Carolina.  

Post MVP, when his career seemed to peak, Newton’s never been bad on his own.  Injuries have caused poor performance or Carolina’s infrastructure failed him, which also included one of football’s worst offensive lines over the middle of the decade aside from lackluster weapons.  

Last year, the Patriots looked a lot like those Panthers teams – a group with an awesome defense whose offense just couldn’t do enough.  That’s not necessarily a good thing for Newton, but New England’s offensive line is certainly better than any he had in Carolina.  That will help immensely.

Plus, as hard as it might be to admit, Tom Brady was worse than ever last year.  That’s not to say he’s toast, and that’s not to say he won’t be successful in Tampa Bay, but it seemed like the Patriots experienced the perfect storm of a regressed Brady, bad luck offensively (Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon) and poor performance from skill position players (like Mohammed Sanu, who New England gave up a second round pick for and just never made an impact and Sony Michel).  It might have just been a bad year for everyone involved.

The Patriots still have Julian Edelman.  They still have James White.  They still have a good defense despite heavy losses in the offseason, and you know Bill Belichick will get more than expected out of them than less.  There was no real reason for Sanu to play poorly last year – he should return to form as a good second or third option.  The Patriots drafted two tight ends in the third round in April, which screams of a plan to possibly recreate the dominance Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi will likely be used heavily, and therefore be trusted targets.  An offense with Newton at QB, White at RB, Edelman, Sanu, N’Keal Harry and two big tight ends in a perfect scheme fit?  That could be deadly.

Last year feels like it should be an outlier for the Patriots.  Even with Brady gone, Belichick still exists, and because of that, they shouldn’t be counted out.  There’s a reason why it was going to be tough to totally write off New England with Stidham this year.  New England tends to just figure things out.  Last year was the first year in perhaps the last 20 where that didn’t happen.  Now, they’ve made sure that next season, they won’t encounter the same problem, and that the rest of the league still has to take the Patriots as seriously as they did before.

The Pros And Cons Of MLB’s 60 Game Season

On June 4, 2019, the Washington Nationals sat at a record of 27-33.  They were in fourth place in the NL East, six games below .500, and sported what was easily the worst bullpen in baseball through the season’s first two months.  It seemed like the Nationals were just doing their typical thing early that year: completely choking even with one of the sport’s best overall rosters.

But baseball seasons are long.  They’re 162 games running from March to September.  A lot can happen and change during that span, especially in a game as variant as baseball, which is almost solely based on numbers.

In 2019, a lot changed after June 4.  The Nationals bullpen improved slightly, which was just enough to have it not be the sole reason they were losing games.  Washington snuck into the playoffs, won the NL Wild Card Game on a single base hit, let the Dodgers trip on themselves again (and subsequently take the throne from the Nationals as the most disappointing team of the 2010s) and became World Series Champions.

Around MLB, a lot changed after June 4 as well.  The St. Louis Cardinals – Washington’s opponent in the NLCS – were 30-29, third in the NL Central, and sat behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs in the division.  Chicago didn’t even make the playoffs, and the Brewers choked in one of the most stunning ways we’ve ever seen in the playoffs.  The Philadelphia Phillies led Washington’s division and were seven games above .500; they didn’t even end up making the postseason.

The 2019 season saw seven of the 10 teams that made the playoffs in position to do so on June 4 – the day the Nationals played their 60th game of the season.  That’s a pretty high percentage.  As surprising as 2019 was, the small sample size we had on June 4 was actually quite representative of how the season ended up playing out, even though the eventual World Series champions were left out.

Even more surprising, baseball’s early season small samples aren’t as misleading as we tend to believe.  I looked at the standings on the date of the eventual World Series champions 60th game every year since 2010, and eight of the past ten seasons, more than half the teams who were in a playoff position on that date actually made it into October.  Here’s the charted data:

MLB from 2010-2011 only had one Wild Card in each league, resulting in an eight team playoff field

2010: 6/8 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the San Francisco Giants 60th game made the playoffs

2011: 5/8 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the St. Louis Cardinals 60th game made the playoffs

2012: 4/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the San Francisco Giants 60th game made the playoffs

2013: 7/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Boston Red Sox 60th game made the playoffs

2014: 5/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the San Francisco Giants 60th game made the playoffs

2015: 8/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Kansas City Royals 60th game made the playoffs

2016: 8/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Chicago Cubs 60th game made the playoffs

2017: 8/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Houston Astros 60th game made the playoffs

2018: 7/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Boston Red Sox 60th game made the playoffs

2019: 7/10 teams who held a playoff position on the date of the Washington Nationals 60th game made the playoffs

A couple additional notes here:

  • It is extremely interesting that during the second half of the decade, the first 60 games were much more representative of the playoffs than the first half.
  • On paper this could make sense – the 2018 Red Sox, 2017 Astros and 2016 Cubs were all the best team in the baseball each of those years.  The 2015 Royals and 2019 Nationals, not so much.
  • Every Giants World Series title felt incredibly surprising in the moment, and the data backs that up, which explains why during the first half of the decade, the first 60 games were much less representative.
  • The Giants were not even in the playoff picture through 60 games in 2010 and ended up winning the World Series.  They join the 2012 Giants and the 2019 Nationals as the only three other teams to be out of the playoff picture through 60 games and win the World Series in the past 10 years.

The data doesn’t lie.  It shows that approximately 67.7% of the teams in the playoffs after 60 games make it into October over the past 10 years.  That’s a better percentage than most, including this website, seem to give credit for.  Usually the first MLB column of the year lands some time in July on this site, due to school and the NBA Finals wrapping up.  But it’s also significantly due to a perceived small sample size in games and statistics.  Writing about what’s happening a month or two into the season seems insignificant.  It might be time to reconsider that thinking going forward.

MLB is going to make us do that this season whether we like it or not.  The data shows that it may not be something we hate as much as we think it will.  Sixty games may not be the madness we think it will be.

Still, the remaining 32.3% of teams that could get screwed by this short season is significant chunk, and as the data showed, there’s a 30% chance it leaves out the World Series Champion based on the previous 10 years.  Those are both big numbers.

This data is a surprising find, which, despite numbers never lying, leaves for some holes to potentially be poked in them and for us to potentially disagree with them a bit. It’s widely been written about how much of a crapshoot baseball is, specifically during the playoffs.  While the best team wins more times than not, it happens drastically less than in other sports, and when it does (Like the Nationals last year), it feels even more incredible.  Washington in 2019, the Royals in 2015 and almost every Giants title early in the decade was totally unpredictable.  Even the Royals opponent in 2015 – the Mets – completed an astonishing feat by making it that far.

But for three years after that, the best team truly did win: the Cubs in 2016, the Astros in 2017 (well, maybe) and the Red Sox in 2018 all dominated those respective seasons.

It ebbs and flows.  When the ebbs occur, they’re enormous, unpredictable and spectacular.  The data can’t really put that into context.

Additionally, the data set pulled may possibly not be the most accurate due to the resources available.  It might have been more accurate to take each teams best and worst 60 game stretch of each season and compare those to the playoff standings in a given year.  Comparing the first 60 games of a 162 game season may not accurately compare to the first 60 games of, well, a 60 game season.  Because baseball is so variant, stats can change dramatically during any 60 game stretch, not just the one that begins the season.

However, finding those 60 game stretches would be nearly impossible with resources available.

Still, 60 games out of 162 is not even 40 percent.  That’s leaves more than half the season left to be completed.  There’s a lot of variability that can occur in either pocket, which means ultimate chaos could still culminate when Opening Day comes along in late July.

We didn’t have to be here.  Games were going to be lost no matter what, but talks between the MLB and MLBPA started in early May regarding a resumption.  Based on camp starting July 1 for most teams, it wouldn’t have taken that long to get things going again – likely about a month total after an agreement.  June 1 was realistic when the sides first started talking.  That would have given us the potential to play somewhere around 90-100 games.

But an agreement couldn’t be made.  The owners and players union spent almost two full months arguing over small amounts of money in the grand scheme of things, most of which came down to billionaire owners being greedy rather than millionaire players being so.  Players are the ones who would be the ones traveling, interacting with others and putting themselves at the highest risk for potentially catching a case of the coronavirus.  Owners will be in their mansions tucked away watching.

There are some caveats – which aren’t defenses of billionaires – though.  Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s are really hurting right now – no season could have legitimately put these teams into bankruptcy, in which MLB would’ve had to bail them out.

A lot of teams that cried poor over the past two months aren’t.  It’s mostly owners refusing to put more money than they want to into their teams when they have plenty more to spend in their back pockets.

Oakland and Tampa Bay don’t necessarily fit this bill.  Yes, their owners may be greedy in their refusal to sell, but they don’t possess the mammoth wealth many others do throughout baseball.  For example, Oakland’s owner, John J. Fisher, has only $750 million worth of stock in Gap, the company his parents own and founded, right now. That’s $230 million less than the value of the Miami Marlins, per Forbes.

Fisher hasn’t made his money any other way other than through his Gap stock.  As Ken Rosenthal and Alex Coffey wrote here, it’s been a tough go for the company amidst the coronavirus pandemic.  Gap’s valuation has tanked, and therefore so has Fisher’s, and the A’s, wealth.

So, the owners rejecting MLBPA proposals of games in the 70-114 range at full pro-rated salaries might have been a good thing for the future of these two teams.  It’s highly unlikely every owner in baseball was looking out for the A’s and Rays rather than just their own wealth in rejecting the proposal, but some could have factored it in.

Regardless, an extra 10-15 games probably wouldn’t have stretched the A’s and Rays that far.  At the end of the day, those owners still have a lot of money.  They’d probably be fine up to 80 games or so – about half of a normal season.  Instead, they cut it off 13 percent short of the halfway mark, all over what likely amounts to no more than $10 million for each team – chump change for billionaires.

Would that extra 13 percent of a season really change things?  The data says no, given that according to it 37 percent of the season sets a decently clear playoff picture.  Fifty percent of a season would only entrench that more so.  But halfway through the season is typically around the All-Star break, and by then, teams are forced to deal with smaller sample sizes with the trade deadline usually a week or two afterward.  A lot of teams make decisions on whether to buy or sell right up to the final days before July 31 because any extra games (or samples) they can get, they will take.

Eighty or 82 games would be a clean break.  Half the season lost to coronavirus and some bickering.  Fine.  Put that down in the record books.  We’ll deal with it.  What happened the past two months will go down as purely embarrassing and won’t ever have an easy explanation.  It was nonsensical.

The biggest reason why things panned out this way was not only because of greedy owners but because of what looms after next season (which will hopefully be a normal one and at some point have fans in the seats): the CBA’s expiration.

Up after the 2021 season, the CBA’s expiration means a lockout is a virtual guarantee.  It was even before this season, thanks to brutal free agent markets of past offseasons.  That was going to get ugly, like, perhaps no 2022 season ugly.  Factor in what just occurred over the past two months and no season in 2022 seems like a lock.

All the bickering and hard lining over these negotiations resulted in the implementation of a season because of the acquiring of leverage for the next CBA.  Giving in now makes you look weak and ready to do so more in 2022.  With things getting as dicey as they will then, neither side was willing to relinquish whatever leverage they had going for them in those talks now.  The past two months’ talks determine a two month season.  2021’s talks determine the next five full seasons.

Regardless, we’re here.  And we’ll take what we can get of it, for however long that lasts.

Lets hope it’s for awhile.  MLB took some steps when it comes to limiting the coronavirus threat, like having teams play only their divisional opponents and interleague divisional opponents to reduce travel distances.  Showers aren’t going to be allowed postgame.  There won’t be spitting, seeds or fights without severe punishment.  Media access will be only via Zoom.  Players aren’t allowed to go out to restaurants or bars postgame; they must go straight to their hotel instead.  There will be distancing in the dugout and clubhouses.

But a lot of this seems pointless when you consider how close a runner and first baseman stand next to each other, or how close the batter, catcher and umpire are at home plate.  It seems pointless considering that teams are going to be traveling on charter planes whose pilots and flight attendants won’t be in quarantine while transporting players, or that random hotel maids will be entering rooms while players are gone.  When teams are playing home series, players will go home to their families.  Those families may not be as careful as they should be – especially when one of their own is away half the time.

This is not a bubble whatsoever.  MLB players are going to be doing a lot of things that aren’t being recommended right now.  They will be coming into contact with a lot of people whom MLB has no control over.  That’s a lot of trust to put into a lot of different people.  If a player gets sick, it needs to be caught immediately, and testing every other day doesn’t cut it.  An outbreak could happen easily.

MLB has instituted a taxi squad for every team to have on deck, meaning they don’t plan to halt play if an outbreak like that occurs.  Sickness would be treated like injury, and backups would play instead.  Still, a potential outbreak on a given team may feel a lot more surreal in the moment, and could force MLB’s hand in halting play of that team or the league as a whole.

It feels a bit shortsighted, given all the time it took to get here.  MLB seems to be ignoring the one and only thing that could bring them down again.  Health and safety protocols were agreed to almost immediately between the league and union.  Now we know why: there weren’t that many to begin with.

Whether a 60 game season turns out to be completely ridiculous or not, we should be glad we got it.  If it’s the Dodgers and Yankees or the Padres and Blue Jays in the World Series, it’s better than the alternative conclusion from the past two months of pandering between the league and the players union.  A couple extra bucks from the owners probably would have given us something a little better, but everyone is racing against a time bomb in the coronavirus, and therefore, running shorter might be a little sweeter.

Did The NBA Really Ever Have A Plan?

Lets look at what a plan released by the NBA for the resumption of the 2019-2020 season should have looked like.

It should have outlined a format for the conclusion of the regular season, a settlement of tight playoff races, a format for how the final seedings of the playoffs would be determined and how those playoffs were to be conducted.

Check.

It should have explained the effects on the offseason and the beginning of the 2020-2021 season to the best of its abilities, as a time frame for this would be hard to project due the relative unknown that the coronavirus pandemic has brought.

Check.

Most importantly, it should have had a comprehensive overview of the health and safety protocols for players, coaches, team personnel and others who would be in the bubble at Walt Disney World starting in late July, which would ensure that another interruption, or perhaps a cancellation, of the 2019-20 season would not occur.

Oops.

June 4 and 5, the days in which the NBA Board of Governors and the NBA Players Association both ratified the plan to return to play, both came with nothing more than a “We’ll figure it out and let you know later” from the league regarding the most important part of their restart plan. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was supposed to speak sometime during the next week detailing those. That never happened.

Instead during that very week (last week), coronavirus cases in multiple states –including Florida, home of the NBA’s resumption – spiked worryingly high.  Reports trickled out regarding the NBA’s “bubble”, which doesn’t really seem like a bubble at all if certain people are able to freely leave and return without rampant testing.  Additionally, of course, NBA players started to do the same as many others – getting out and doing something about racial injustice rather than just tweeting about it.

So it’s no wonder there was a conference call on Friday night with about 80 players discussing some of the drawbacks of and potholes in the NBA’s resumption plan.  It was never really all there in the first place.

If the report by The New York Times is true that a delay in health and safety protocols is due to those regulations still being worked out, then June 4 and 5’s decision and vote should have never happened.  The coronavirus – and the protocols to help protect against it – should have been the league’s No.1 concern, not the format for the league’s return to play.  As demonstrated in March, the coronavirus has the power to completely shut this whole thing down.  It already did once.  It could very well do it again in the July-October window.

The league’s resumption can’t happen without the coronavirus being taken care of and locked away to the best of the league’s abilities.  Having workers like hotel maids and cooks not be quarantined in the bubble with the players makes Walt Disney World not truly a bubble.  That is putting a lot of trust into people who are going home to their families at night instead of staying in the resort.  It’s not like those people being careful is 100 percent fool-proof with this thing either – an essential trip to the grocery store for one of those workers is still risky.

There is the case to be made that the players are the ones not taking things seriously enough.  According to ESPN, some have issues with the league’s preliminary (unreleased) protocols at Disney World, feeling as though they’re too restrictive for the players.  That shows a degree of carelessness from the players, yes, but three months in a hotel room with no friends or family also doesn’t sound fun.  It’s a fair argument.

You know how the league could address and solve those player concerns?  Bubbling everyone!  If the Disney employees are kept inside the bubble, along with all NBA personnel, then freedom would be allowed inside of it.  That grants players the ability to do things like golf.

There’s a human aspect to all sides of this though.  One group is going to have to bite the bullet of leaving their families, quarantining in Disney World and just getting through October 13th for this to work.  Should that be NBA players or Disney staffers who are normal, hard-working people likely making under six figures?

That’s what it seems like this is coming down to.  Throw in Kyrie Irving and others’ concerns about whether the league should even play in the coming months given the current climate around racial inequality, and the NBA’s return suddenly seems bleak, all for the right reasons.

The NBA couldn’t have prepared for comments like Irving’s and for the unrest that the country has experienced since May 25.  What’s happening is hopefully a turning point.  While the NBA’s vote on the season’s resumption happened about a week after Floyd’s death, every other time there’s been a controversial police killing, coverage of and reaction to it has dipped shortly after.  This time, the moment is clearly not short lived.

It seems as if players like Irving could end up bailing the league out here.  A cancellation of the rest of the season in honor of Floyd and the current climate allows the league to get out of their leaky and unclear Disney World protocols.  They’ll never have to answer for those shortcomings, because they’ll be tossed and forgotten.  

If the league decides to carry on, then there will certainly be some ironing out to do between the players and league.  The scary part is that the league and owners can implement whatever policies they want with the NBA’s force majuere clause, which can be used to cancel the season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  That would mean an immediate lockout.  If the players ask for anything the league deems unreasonable, the league could hold the clause over the players’ head. 

It would be surprising to see things get that bad.  This isn’t baseball.   Silver is too smart and ultimately too player-friendly to let things get that out of control.  But he needs to understand that the current plan and the previous handling of the NBA’s return just hasn’t been good enough.  Health and safety protocols for the resumption should not be what we’re waiting on.  It’s the heart and soul of this whole thing, and should have been taken care of first.