As other teams expended precious draft capital or lavished expensive contracts on quarterbacks, the Patriots waited. They stayed away from Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston, all of whom signed short-term deals as backups, and opted not to draft a quarterback — though, as Belichick indicated afterward, that was not necessarily by design.
The Patriots have long cultivated a reputation as a team that skirts the boundaries of fair play, from their involvement in the so-called Spygate and Deflategate scandals to their most recent contretemps, in which they were fined $1.1 million and docked a 2021 third-round draft pick for videotaping the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during a game last December in Cleveland. This move for Newton — leaked, as it happened, minutes before the videotaping punishment was levied — grants New England yet another edge.
For Newton, the appeal of the Patriots is simple: the opportunity to resurrect his career with a banner franchise, for a legendary coach, with a forgiving depth chart. If he wanted to remain a starter, New England presented his best option. But while Newton upgrades the position, it is unclear how much he can help transform the rest of the roster.
Beyond Brady, the Patriots also lost, among others, the star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with his buddy in Tampa Bay; the defensive stalwarts Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins; kicker Stephen Gostkowski; and the offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The Patriots are not rebuilding but rather reinventing themselves, with a coach who loves to tinker.
With Brady gone, the only person capable of cloaking the Patriots’ deficiencies is Belichick, who is entrusted with squeezing a 12th consecutive division title from a team that will resemble none that he has overseen during his time in New England.
After every coaching milestone, Belichick, who has won the third-most games in league history (273), deflects questions about his legacy and redirects praise onto his players. He has won with an array of stars, in different ways, but never without Brady, his tether for two decades. Given his choice, Belichick did not pick Bubba Crosby. He picked a former star, an electrifying and charismatic presence. He chose Cam Newton.