Could Alex Smith be Cam Newton's replacement in New England?

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Ryan Wormeli
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Could Alex Smith replace Cam Newton in New England? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The New England Patriots and Washington Football Team haven't been in similar positions for much of the past two decades, but in 2020 they both had at least one thing in common: dealing with aging quarterbacks.

The Patriots signed former number one overall pick Cam Newton to replace Tom Brady after the latter left for Tampa Bay. Washington planned to roll with Dwayne Haskins, but ultimately rallied to the postseason after the surprise return of Alex Smith - himself a former top pick as well - from a life-threatening leg injury.

Both offenses struggled mightily when it came to throwing the ball, an essential part of modern NFL offenses. So, with each quarterback another year removed from his prime and both offenses looking to make changes at the position, which veteran is a better fit for Bill Belichick?

According to at least one Patriots reporter, Smith actually comes out ahead of Newton in 2021.

"Between the lines on the field it would be Alex Smith, because right now Cam Newton can’t do the things necessary to make a 2021 NFL offense behave the way it’s supposed to. And that is, namely, throw the football," NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran said this week. "Alex Smith announces himself as a Band-Aid fix. There’s no notion that he would be your long-term starter. But he comes in and immediately improves your passing game. So to me, you move on from a glorified fullback in Cam and you go ahead to a quarterback who’s really on his last legs."

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Curran is almost literally right about Smith being on his last legs, as NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay reminds him that Smith's surgery required doctors to take muscles from his other leg to entirely rebuild the injured limb.

He's also right in terms of Smith's play. The Washington QB won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award just for getting back to the field - a remarkable accomplishment - but he wasn't exactly running a dynamic offense in the nation's capital.

Over the course of eight games (six starts) in 2020 Smith threw for just 1,582 yards and six touchdowns, to go against eight interceptions. His QBR (34.8) was a career-worst, and his yards per attempt was the worst it's been since 2007. With reports Washington is 'expected' to part ways with the veteran QB, Smith will likely be in the market for a new team next season.

Newton wasn't much better, though. By DVOA, which is on a per-play basis to adjust for the different number of games for each player, Newton finished 31st in the NFL. Smith was 35th, and his -39.7% rating was more than twice as worse as Newton's -17.7%.

Those numbers highlight why Finlay would rather just stay away from both quarterbacks moving forward.

"My pick would be neither. I don’t think either of these guys are a starting quarterback in 2021," Finlay said. "Cam doesn’t have the arm, and I don’t think you can count on Alex for anything close to 17 games, let alone the old 16 games, let alone 10. I think Alex would be perfect in a backup role, or maybe to provide competition in a training camp battle with somebody that you hope wins that job. You can’t count on this guy...I just would have a real hard time going into Week 1 of an NFL season with Alex as my QB1."

The truth is that most NFL teams probably view both Newton and Smith as last resorts at the position heading into 2021. But Newton is at least several years younger and has demonstrated a higher ceiling in the past.

The quarterback carousel projects to have a lot more movement than usual across the league this offseason, and Smith and Newton are just two of many options NFL franchises have this free agency. It remains to be seen where each ends up, but chances are wherever it is, it won't be as the assumed starter heading into training camp.