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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) reacts after a play against the New England Patriots during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 24, 2018. 

The New England Patriots will have an Auburn man leading their offense in 2020.

Prior to Sunday, that was thought to be Jarrett Stidham. Now, it looks like head coach Bill Belichick gets the type of athlete at quarterback that he has always been rumored to be intrigued by.

Belichick and the Patriots’ brass have benefited from two decades of dominance from Tom Brady, but the future Hall of Fame coach has flirted with quarterbacks who bring more mobility to the table than the stationary TB12.

Tim Tebow was brought in for the preseason in 2013 with the hopes of him factoring into the New England equation. The team was linked to Lamar Jackson in the 2018 draft before making the mistake of passing on the reigning MVP in favor of running back Sony Michel.

Now, Belichick gets his mobile quarterback with the 2015 NFL MVP. He also gets a player who has rarely been healthy since that season.

A healthy Cam Newton could easily raise the Patriots’ ceiling higher than even the great Brady could have. Brady’s decline was fairly obvious last season despite the New England defense having a historic start to the year and the front office burning through assets to bring in wide receivers.

Brady simply isn’t capable of single-handedly raising an offense into elite status anymore. Luckily in Tampa, he has the weapons where he won’t have to.

Newton hasn’t been capable of that in recent years either, but that has largely been due to injuries.

Newton goes from defensive-minded Ron Rivera and a rotating cast of offensive coordinators (most recently the ancient Norv Turner) to arguably the greatest head coach of all-time and Josh McDaniels, a slimy — look up McDaniels and the Colts — yet respected offensive mind who did draft Tebow in Denver.

In saving money with Brady’s departure, the Patriots were able to retain Joe Thuney and have an elite interior offensive line. If Isaiah Wynn can stay healthy at offensive tackle, the unit should be the best Newton’s ever played behind.

Brady’s fans will tell you that New England failed to put talent around him at receiver, but it isn’t for lack of trying.

The team’s 2019 first-rounder, N’Keal Harry, has struggled, but college football fans will remember him as one of the scariest players during his time at Arizona State. The team traded a second-rounder for Mohamed Sanu last season. Julian Edelman is still a reliable slot receiver, and the team has also brought in former Cam target Damiere Byrd and former Jaguar Marquise Lee.

There are certainly more talented receiving groups in the NFL, but there are certainly less talented ones as well. New England also drafted a pair of tight ends this season with UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene.

What Cam could unlock the most from New England’s offense is the running game. It will be interesting to see how much read-option McDaniels will incorporate given Newton’s injury history, but that sort of thing may be just what Michel needs to unlock his potential.

The former Georgia star was drafted over teammate Nick Chubb because of his perceived higher ceiling. That looks like a mistake so far, as Chubb has blossomed into a star despite landing in dysfunctional Cleveland and Michel has failed to capitalize on his situation with the NFL’s most stable franchise.

If Cam unlocks a higher gear for Michel, that alone makes the signing more than worth it. If Michel struggles, the team has a surplus of other options which fit with Cam as well, led by James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris and Brandon Bolden.

With New England’s elite defense, the Patriots have immediately jumped right back into the playoff picture. Are they at the level of the elites in the AFC with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs and Lamar Jackson’s Ravens? No.

At least, not until we see Cam.

Should they be considered the favorites to win the AFC East for the 12th straight year? I’m not going to bet against them. If I am given the choice between Cam Newton and Josh Allen as my quarterback for 2020, that answer is going to be Cam every time.

It’s going to take a while, but we may have until deep into a January playoff run to get accustomed to Cam Newton in a New England jersey.

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