Every off-season in the NFL, some hard-to-believe narratives — perpetuated by club personnel, sometimes anonymously — get circulated so much that they become accepted facts by the time foot strikes leather in September.
Only to be exposed well before September’s end as the frauds they were all along.
Recent whoppers included the Chicago Bears in 2017 trying to convince us all they preferred free-agent signee Mike Glennon over No. 2 overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky. Suuuuuure, we all thought.
This year, one example towers over all others. You remember it: “Jarrett Stidham is replacing Tom Brady as the New England Patriots starting quarterback!”
Ha. The very idea seems preposterous now.
Some of us were mighty skeptical back in the spring and summer, but the Patriots tried so hard to convince us otherwise, we had to go along at times.
Between mid-March (when Brady bolted New England for Tampa Bay) and late-June (when the Patriots signed unwanted free agent Cam Newton for the bargain-basement, one-year salary of just over $1 million) we were all led to believe that, yes, Patriots head coach and football czar Bill Belichick really, honestly, truly had “a lot of confidence” in second-year Stidham.
Belichick even said the same thing of the only other QB the Pats had rostered from late-March to late-April, until post-draft roster-padding time: 34-year-old journeyman Brian Hoyer.
Everyone presumed Hoyer was there only as insurance for Stidham, a fourth-round 2019 draft pick out of Auburn University with arm talent, but also with enough warts as to legitimately raise doubts about his ability to step right in for the departed Brady without failing epically.
In March, I wrote I’d be shocked if Belichick went into the 2020 season with Stidham as starter. I’d seen the kid throw twice in the pre-draft process, and again as a rookie in Pats training camp. Wasn’t impressed. That this guy who wound up throwing only four pro passes as a rookie backup to Brady during the 2019 regular season (one was a pick-six) could keep the Pats’ victory dials spinning seemed ludicrous.
The Pats, though, sure did a good job of selling everyone on it. And then again, even after the club signed Newton in late June, Belichick slyly kept trying to assure skeptical local beat reporters all through August training camp that the starting QB battle remained a wide-open race between second-year Stidham, 10 th -year Newton and 12 th -year Hoyer.
“When we’re ready to (name a starter) we’ll do it,” Belichick barked on Aug. 31.
Ah, but Boston-area reporters could see in person by the end of the second week of padded practices in August that Newton, indeed, was fully recovered from his two recent, worrisome surgeries — in early 2019 to repair his wounded right throwing shoulder, and this past January to fix a Lisfranc foot problem that ended his 2019 season after two games.
Newton was a dominating beast at most training-camp practices — far and away the best passer and leader of the trio, reporters said.
But of course he was. Hoyer has never been more than a ham-and-egger who occasionally flashed competence, while Stidham has yet to flash it at all as a pro.
Newton, of course, had spent his first nine years in the league with the Carolina Panthers. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, the apex of his time in Charlotte came in 2015 when he was named NFL MVP and led the Panthers to a Super Bowl berth.
But by this past March the Panthers were in full reset mode, having turfed their head coach of nine years (Ron Rivera) and seemingly anxious to dump Newton too. The level of his play had dropped appreciably in recent years, because of compounding injuries and an increasing dearth of receiving talent.
The Panthers tried to trade him in March. No takers — not even for a garbage Day 3 draft pick, in large part because Newton would have to be acquired sight unseen. That is, his medical situation would have to remain an unverifiable mystery by any team doctors until league-wide, team-facility, pandemic-caused lockdowns were lifted.
The Patriots must have trusted well-publicized word from Newton and his agent back in March that he had fully passed a physical conducted by a renowned Atlanta physician; that he was good to go. In between, the only phone calls Newton reportedly took were from the Cleveland Browns (who only briefly considered Newton as a backup to Baker Mayfield) and the Patriots.
That’s it. Hard to believe now.
Newton, 31, agreed to terms with New England on June 28. Would the Patriots have countered any offer Newton might have received elsewhere at any time over the previous three months? Undoubtedly.
Belichick just folded his arms, put on his stone poker face, tried to convince us all Stidham was his guy, and — with the Patriots cap-strapped — merely waited out Newton and his agent until they were desperate enough to sign for the veteran minimum, albeit in a deal loaded with millions of dollars in incentives.
It wasn’t until earlier this month — this month! — shortly after news leaked that Newton would be one of the Patriots team captains, that the club publicly confirmed Newton would start.
He’s a massive quarterback. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds but he probably weighs more.
In a Week 1 defeat of the Miami Dolphins, Newton dazzled far more with his legs and all-body running power than with his arm, carrying 15 times for a game-high 75 yards for two touchdowns, while completing just 15-of-19 throws for just 155 yards and no touchdowns. He proved he’s still one of the most imposing ball carriers in the league, running backs included.
Last Sunday night at Seattle, in New England’s narrow, last-minute thriller of a loss, Newton imposed his will brilliantly as a passer too: 30-of-47 for 397 yards and one touchdown, to go with 11 rushes for 47 yards and two scores. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth during the game said something millions of us were thinking too — that this might have been the best Newton had ever looked, aerially.
The game ended with Newton coming up just short of a third rushing touchdown, which would have won it for the Patriots.
Not only is there no QB controversy in New England — for a livin’ fact — but Newton after two weeks must be considered a top league MVP candidate, as well as a top candidate for comeback player of the year.
So much for Stidham Mania, eh?
Speaking of whom, guess who who didn’t so much as dress for either Patriots game so far?
Belichick, who has kept all three training-camp QBs on the active roster, chose to dress Hoyer in Weeks 1 and 2 as the backup likeliest to lead the Patriots to victory in the event Newton got hurt — not Stidham.
Kind of undermines Bill’s serious-as-sin assurances back in the spring he had “a lot” of confidence in Stidham.
“Jarrett had a good year last year. He improved a lot,” Belichick said in April. “We’ll see where that takes him.”
To the press box on game days, in sweats, that’s where.
Pity all of us who grudgingly came to believe it really might have been otherwise.
It’s another good life lesson. When your gut sounds the alarm you’re being fooled, listen to it.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020