For Patriots, Julio Jones trade would put onus on Cam Newton to perform ASAP

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Curran: A Pats trade for Julio Jones would put Newton in spotlight originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Remember the annual "Larry Fitzgerald to the Patriots???" offseason rumor? Course you do. Thirty years from now, you can use "I once saw Larry Fitz at Logan … " as a litmus test for anyone claiming to be a long-suffering Patriots fan.

Fortunately, good wideout rumors never die. They just morph into rumors about different wideouts. Which brings us to Julio Jones.

Rumors are rampant the Patriots are mulling a move to land the Falcons wideout. Internal discussions have been had in Foxboro, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi. Meanwhile, our guy Michael Holley says Jones wants to play with Cam Newton.

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The difference between all those Fitz rumors and Jones’ situation? The Falcons are motivated to move Jones and get out from under his $23M cap hit. The Cardinals were never there with Fitzgerald. As of June 1 -- next Tuesday -- the Falcons can trade Jones and spread his pending cap hit over this year and next instead of absorbing it all this year.

The Senator Phil Perry did a great job at the end of last week delving into the Jones fit on all fronts for New England. Cliff’s Notes version? He’s still really friggin’ good and -- while expensive -- the Patriots can fit him in. Newton, no doubt, would be delighted at having Jones aboard.

To which I say, "Careful what you wish for, Cam …"

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Because the more talent Newton gets surrounded by, the higher expectations for the de facto starter rise. And with the additions of two actual tight ends -- Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry -- and the signings of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, expectations are already extremely high relative to 2020.

One by one, the excuses for Newton’s laborious season as a passer last year have been knocked down. After a full offseason of OTAs, minicamps and training camp, the steep learning curve that came with being dropped into a new offense is flattened.

There likely will be no quarantine period in 2021 that will keep Newton out of the building and affect his ability to keep up.

More than anything, though, the offensive talent around Newton is so much better. As a result, the season-long "chicken or the egg" debate of whether Newton was failing to get the ball to receivers or receivers were failing to get open is now dead. Or should be.

Henry, Smith, Agholor, Bourne, James White, Jakobi Meyers and a capable offensive line opening holes for a potent running game? That’s enough right there to help a passing attack that managed just 2,890 passing yards in 2020 (30th in the NFL) nudge toward acceptability.

The boost Cam needs?

Julio Jones' yards per reception in 2020

15.1

Cam Newton's yards per pass attempt in 2020

7.2

Variation

Double

If they added Julio Jones, you could contend that the Patriots offense would be as well-suited for throwing as it is for running. Except ... that Newton himself is better suited for running than throwing, as his 12 rushing touchdowns and eight touchdown passes last year indicate.  

So the onus would be squarely on Newton to maximize the abilities of Jones. Would he be able to deliver the ball accurately enough often enough to justify Jones being one of the team’s highest-paid players?

Because Jones can still play. Even last season at 31 and playing in just nine games, Jones had 51 catches and averaged 15.1 yards per catch. Only once in Jones’ career has he been under 14 yards per catch and that was in 2015 when he had a league-high 136 catches for 1,871 yards.

I think everyone expects a better Cam Newton this year. Even if a lot of people think "better" still won’t be good enough, I tend to think that -- for a long while -- it will be. And Bill Belichick is setting expectations for that to be the case.

The point is coming -- and it will begin in earnest in training camp -- where there has to be hard evidence that Newton is part of the solution going forward and wasn’t part of the problem in 2020. The Patriots have given him the benefit of the doubt.

And Newton’s lobbied for it. When he joined the "I Am Athlete" podcast prior to re-signing with the Patriots he made clear that both COVID and joining the team in late June conspired to make him look bad.

Curran and Perry address 15 Patriot questions that need answers

"When I came back (from COVID), it was something that that's where the lack of an offseason, the lack of time really being invested in the system kind of showed itself," he explained.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Julio Jones watch and what to expect at Patriots OTAs | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"By the time I came back, I didn't feel comfortable physically, skillfully. A lot of that discomfort came pre-snap. I'm lost. I'm thinking too much. ... The offense kept going, and I was stopped and stagnant for two weeks. By the time I came back, it was new terminology. ... I wasn't just trying to learn a system for what it was, I was learning a, let's be honest, 20-year system in two months.

"They threw everything at me, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way," Newton said. "At the end of the day, sometimes you have to go through things in that type of manner to make you realize that you can't skip processes. ... I'd be the first person to tell you that I needed time."

With a full offseason and a ton of store-bought talent around him, Newton can’t help but be better. If the team trades for Jones and arguably has its most talented offensive group since 2007?

If the car isn’t going fast enough but the engine is perfect? Time to look at the driver.