In an offseason that featured more available quarterbacks than any in recent history, it should come as no surprise that the New England Patriots already appear to be the team that navigated the situation best of all.
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On the other end of the spectrum, the Chicago Bears traded a fourth-round pick for the right to pay Nick Foles $21 million in guarantees to be a backup (or a very expensive cheerleader/QB coach), and the rationale cited for why Foles was the preferred target is even worse — it was the idea that Foles “knew the Bears' system” on offense. The big problem with that already flawed logic? The Bears have a brand new offensive system in 2020, one that suits Cam Newton's skill set better than it does Nick Foles'.
Chicago has run just 46% of their offensive plays from the shotgun so far in 2020, a stark contrast from the West Coast style, RPO-driven offense that Matt Nagy ran in both 2018 and 2019. The Bears lined up in shotgun on roughly 80% of offensive snaps over the last two seasons, among the highest rate in the NFL for both years. This is the offense Nick Foles is used to running — not the under-center, play-action-based scheme they've actually deployed so far.
Credit to the Bears for seemingly adapting their offense to Mitchell Trubisky's strengths; it's commendable of head coach Matt Nagy to depart so dramatically from what he's used to doing on offense to put winning above all else, even if it does make the Foles move even more of a head-scratcher.
One final observation: the Patriots deploy 21 (two running backs, one tight end) and 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) as much as any team in the NFL. Cam Newton would have been very effective doing the same in Chicago with the recently extended Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson providing unique skill sets out of the backfield in addition to every-down back David Montgomery.
As we discussed in our PFF ROI article, the Patriots understand relative value better than anyone in the NFL. This is what happens when you're focused on beating the prior-year version of yourself as opposed to beating the 31 other teams — you make a panic decision in a saturated market and spend more than anyone else for potentially the least amount of return.
The Patriots don't try to force players to fit their system; they adapt the system to fit their players. Further, they're only willing to pay players what they're worth relative to the NFL marketplace. They don't just pay whatever it takes, because that's how you end up signing 34-year-old Jimmy Graham to a two-year, $16 million contract with $9 million fully guaranteed at signing (Graham's 2020 PFF Grade of 57.2 ranks 54th out of 74 tight ends).
But, we digress. This article is about the Patriots and Cam Newton. The former 2015 MVP was of course dealing with a bevy of injuries, including a shoulder issue and a Lisfranc injury in his foot, that scared teams away, but early returns are very promising.
Perhaps the Bears feel better now that Nick Foles isn't close to reaching any of his incentives, because Newton sure is.
Here is the full list of Newton's incentives, per ESPN's Field Yates:
Base salary: $1.05 million, with $550,000 fully guaranteed
Per-game roster bonuses: $43,750 per game (if active), up to $700,000
Playing-time incentives: Maximum of $3.75 million
40%: $1 million
50%: $1.25 million
60%: $1.5 million ($1.75 million if the team makes the playoffs)
70%: $1.75 million ($2.25 million if the team makes the playoffs)
80%: $2 million ($3 million if the team makes the playoffs)
90%: $2.25 million ($3.75 million if the team makes the playoffs)
Pro Bowl bonus: $500,000
All-Pro bonus: $500,000
Playoff win: $250,000 each game above 50% playing time ($1 million max.)
MAXIMUM VALUE: $7.5 million