Cam Newton's candor is appreciated, but he likely didn't help his chances of catching on with another NFL team

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·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4-min read
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Over the past few years, one of the most overused NFL words is "distraction."

We all know why that word skyrocketed in usage, why so many trolling Twitter users suddenly began using it ad nauseam, why reporters who cover the league started giving it a workout like strength coaches. (If you're unsure, here's a hint: The reason rhymes with Ballin' Happerflick.)

Being a "distraction" is a supposed scarlet letter for NFL players. Who gets labeled a potential distraction and why is highly subjective, of course, but that's a different column for a different day.

But in an environment where "distraction" can be so damning, telling the world that you might be one if brought onto a team seems ill-advised.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel on Friday, Cam Newton offered his side of what led to his release by the New England Patriots last week, after the team decided to go with rookie Mac Jones as its starting quarterback.

Newton doesn't believe the five days he missed due to the NFL's COVID-19 protocols — he left the state to get a second opinion on a foot injury, and since he isn't vaccinated, had to sit out — played a role in the Patriots' decision to go with Jones, but it made it easier to cut him. 

He also believes his vaccination status was not a factor.

But then:

“The reason they released me was because indirectly I was going to be a distraction,” Newton said. “Without being the starter. Just my aura. That’s my gift and my curse ... Let me be honest with you, if they would have asked me, they say, ‘Cam we’re going to give the team to Mac. You’re going to be the second string. We expect you to be everything and then some to guide him through this tenure.’ I would’ve said, ‘Yes, absolutely. Yeah.’ The truth of the matter is this, he would’ve been uncomfortable.”

That last line, that may have been true. It may have been hard for Jones to have Newton in the quarterbacks room with him as his backup, a onetime league MVP over his shoulder and perhaps fearing that at the first sign of a rut he would be replaced. 

But "I was going to be a distraction"? "My aura"? 

That's chum in the water for people who feast on such things.

In this space, we've defended Newton a lot over the years, because so much of what has been written and said about him was rooted in old tropes about what an NFL quarterback is "supposed" to look like or say or be, and just fiction. He made the Carolina Panthers relevant and was everything a team wants out of a franchise quarterback in terms of his commitment to the community. We were rooting for nothing less than Newton setting the league on fire last season when he joined the Patriots, turning the opportunity into a second chance to lead a team and play for a decade more.

It didn't work out that way, for a variety of reasons. No preseason due to COVID restrictions meant less time to learn the playbook and his new teammates; the Patriots' receiving corps last season was, shall we say, lacking (Cecil Newton, in the video with his son, said Cam was handed "a used Civic with the passenger door kinda dangling off"); Newton dealt with a bout of COVID; and his surgically repaired throwing shoulder wasn't 100 percent.

Other general managers saw that "distraction" comment and his reference to his "aura" and it's going to affect Newton's employment chances with another team. 

Couple that with his refusal thus far to get vaccinated – which puts the entire team at risk and means that if he did sign with a new club he couldn't join it until he completed a five-day onboarding process – and it seems like Newton has taken a sizable whack to his opportunities. 

We love candor from athletes and other people in the public eye, but you also have to know how to play the game sometimes. Everyone knows Newton has a big personality. But when you're in the position that Newton finds himself in right now, GMs and head coaches don't want to hear about your "aura."

It's possible Newton will get another chance, if there's an injury to a starter or a team with an entrenched franchise QB feels confident that QB wouldn't be phased by Newton's presence as the No. 2. 

But he certainly didn't help his chances with his video Friday.

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