Cam Newton and Jameis Winston have a lot in common. Both were Heisman Trophy-winning college quarterbacks. Both were the No. 1 selection in their respective NFL draft.
Now in 2020, both are without a job.
The Carolina Panthers have tired of Newton’s injuries and antics and went out and signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract. The Panthers weren’t offering Bridgewater $21 million a year to be a backup.
The same thing happened in Tampa Bay, Winston’s old home, where the Buccaneers went out and got Tom Brady. On top of Brady’s signing, the Bucs also re-signed Blaine Gabbert, a former first-round pick, to be Brady’s backup.
The results of those signings leave Newton, who was released by Carolina, and Winston as free agents looking for a new home. The question now is which quarterback – Newton or Winston – is the better candidate?
The Case for Cam
Newton was selected No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL draft by Carolina. He proved right away that he was worth it. He won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year after throwing for what is now a career-high 4,576 yards. He also ran for 706 yards and scored 35 total touchdowns.
In 2015, Newton was the NFL MVP. He threw for 3,837 yards and a career-best 35 touchdowns. On the ground, he averaged 4.8 yards a carry and ran for 636 yards and 10 scores. Newton led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50 where they lost to Denver.
Still, in nine seasons in the NFL, Newton has thrown for over 29,000 yards, 182 touchdowns, and has an overall record of 68-55-1 as a starter. That’s a winning percentage of 54 percent, which is much higher than Winston’s 39 percent.
The Case for Winston
While he doesn’t have as many wins as Newton, there is still hope for the five-year NFL veteran. There are a few areas where Winston actually holds an edge over Newton. Take completion percentage as an example. Winston’s career completion percentage of 61.3 is better than Newton’s 59.6. Winston also holds the advantage in yard per attempt – 7.7 versus 7.3. – and has a higher yards per game average – 274.1 to Newton’s 232.3.
For a better look at Winston and his abilities, one can look at his offensive share metric (OSM). The OSM accounts for factors that a player can control. For example, a quarterback throws a short pass to a running back who takes the ball 90 yards for a touchdown. The running back was responsible for more of that touchdown than the quarterback.
Now, Winston led the NFL in passing in 2019 with 5,109 yards, but he also threw 30 interceptions. Some, of course, were not his fault. Using the OSM, one will find that Winston has graded higher than Newton in each of the past four seasons. In 2018 for example – the last season in which both Newton and Winston played full seasons – the Tampa Bay quarterback graded out at 32.00. Newton’s grade was 23.94.
Interestingly, before the start of the new league year in March, only one available free agent quarterback had a higher OSM than Winston in 2019. That was Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill who signed a new $119 million deal to stay with the Titans.
Where Will Cam Go?
Over the past two seasons, Newton has missed 16 games. If he can stay healthy, Newton could be a starter somewhere like Los Angeles (Chargers) or Miami. Both teams need quarterbacks, but it appears both will draft one.
The most logical place for Newton is in Washington. There, he would be reunited with his former head coach Ron Rivera who took over for the Redskins this offseason. Newton’s best years in Carolina were under Rivera.
The Redskins drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round last year with the intent of developing him into the starting position. He took over last year around midseason and wound up going 2-5 overall. He completed just 58.6 percent of his passes and threw as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns (7).
Newton could come in and be the bridge to having Haskins as the future starter. Newton could mentor Haskins in the interim and give the Redskins a good two or three years. Realistically, it’s really the only option Newton may have for 2020.
What about Jameis?
Winston is probably the better free agent candidate. Teammates love him. He’s got a great arm, but he struggles with poor judgment. Winston could easily sign with somebody as a backup in 2020 and compete for the job in 2021. He’s only 26 and has several good years left.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many teams willing to spend a bunch on a guy that threw 30 interceptions last year. As mentioned in Newton’s case, teams like Miami and the Chargers are likely to draft their next quarterbacks. The best bet for Winston is to spend 2020 – and possibly longer – as a backup. Winston should look to sign a one-year deal in the $7 to $10 million range, similar to what Bridgewater did last year in New Orleans (one year, $7.25 million).