I’m intrigued by what Cam Newton might do in New England. I’m not sure if he’ll be an above-average passer, but his rushing production could help make him a top-10 player at his position.

Newton doesn’t run as well as he has in the past and has had some injuries, but I think he’s probably still one of the best handful of quarterbacks in the league on sneaks – a big guy who can lean forward to pick up a few yards.

Over the past four years, 24 players have carried the ball at least 20 times when their teams have been looking for a crucial yard. That is, at the 1-yard line, or when their teams faced a third-and-one or fourth-and-one situation. Newton in that time period has gone 29 of 33 on those plays – 3rd-best in the league. The least-successful of these players, as luck would have it, has been Sony Michel (who’s now his teammate).

"AND-ONE" RUSHING (last 4 years)
Josh Allen, Buff.242596.0%
Drew Brees, N.O.222395.7%
Cam Newton, Car.293387.9%
Carson Wentz, Phil.323786.5%
Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.688282.9%
LeVeon Bell, Pitt.-NYJ314077.5%
Alvin Kamara, N.O.202676.9%
Derrick Henry, Ten.425675.0%
Jonathan Stewart, Car.202774.1%
Chris Carson, Sea.435972.9%
Mark Ingram, N.O.-Balt.375172.5%
DeMarco Murray, Tenn.202871.4%
Leonard Fournette, Jac.314470.5%
Latavius Murray, 3 teams344969.4%
Jordan Howard, Chi.-Phil.314568.9%
Mike Gillislee, Buff.-N.E.223268.8%
Todd Gurley, LAR558366.3%
Joe Mixon, Cin.294465.9%
David Johnson, Ariz.345364.2%
Melvin Gordon, LAC446963.8%
Carlos Hyde, 4 tms355761.4%
LeGarrette Blount, 3 tms294860.4%
Devonta Freeman, Atl.274560.0%
• Sony Michel, N.E.223956.4%

I think the Patriots will put that running ability to good use. That would expose Newton to a few hits, of course, but they were always willing to use Tom Brady on a healthy number of those plays, and he’s smaller, less mobile and 12 years older.

Even with Brady, the Patriots ran the ball a healthy amount. Over the last four years, New England inside the 5 ran the ball more often, and with more rushing touchdowns, than any team in the league. That’s including 2-point conversion plays.

RUSHING INSIDE THE 5 (last 4 years)
New England12613252153
New Orleans11714347653
LA Rams10513748250
Kansas City8811639140
Tampa Bay848234438
San Francisco906535237
LA Chargers807232133
Green Bay636630232
NY Jets617826228
NY Giants676221223

To me, the Patriots look like a contender for 20 rushing touchdowns, and I think Newton is about as likely as Michel to lead them in rushing touchdowns. They’ve got other guys – James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead – but I think Newton might run for 8 TDs. And if he scores 8 TDs, he’ll almost certainly finish with top-10 quarterbacking numbers.

The only thing I don’t get is why he signed a contract with a maximum value of about $7.5 million. That’s if he hits all of the incentives. At a time when 18 other quarterbacks have contracts averaging over $20 million, it would have seemed reasonable to pay him something more like $25 million if he helps the Patriots win the division.

If Newton has a base salary of only about $1 million, does that mean the Patriots think there’s some chance Jarrett Stidham will beat him out? Or was New England able to convince Newton that it simply didn’t have the cap space to do more, and that his best route was to sign with them, then case in with a gigantic contract next spring?

—Ian Allan