The Cam Newton era got off to a good start with the New England Patriots.
Newton won his Patriots debut, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels showing creativity by making Cam a legitimate part of the team’s rushing attack.
The former NFL MVP completed 15 out of 19 passes in the Week 1 win and rushed for 75 yards and a pair of scores. Newton followed that impressive performance by throwing for nearly 400 yards and rushing for two more touchdowns in a narrow loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.
However, things have been vastly more difficult for Newton in recent weeks.
New England’s defense carried the team in a Week 3 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Cam then tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has thrown five interceptions and zero touchdowns in the last two games, both Patriots losses.
Newton missed a pair of easy throws on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and he was eventually benched for Jarrett Stidham, though the game was already out of hand at that point.
The Patriots still seem to believe Newton is the man under center. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Sunday morning evaluators and scouts believe the problem with New England’s offense relates more to the players Cam has around him, rather than the veteran quarterback himself.
La Canfora also reported the Patriots are in the market for an upgrade at wide receiver ahead of the trade deadline. Who are some of the pass catchers New England might look to acquire?
Here are the three top trade targets for the Patriots as they look to surround Newton with more talent at the skill positions.
Will Fuller, Houston Texans
Fuller would be an ideal target out wide.
The former first-round pick is one of the most explosive receivers in football. Fuller is averaging 14.6 yards per reception for his career and is a constant deep threat with good hands.
Despite their record, the Texans have had success in the passing game as of late. Fuller has been a major beneficiary, hauling in 31 receptions for 490 yards and five touchdowns through the first seven games. He has gone over the 100-yard mark on three separate occasions while also playing nearly 100 percent of the team’s offensive snaps over the course of the last two weeks.
Durability has been a major question mark for Fuller in his career, but he has been healthy and productive this season.
It remains to be seen what kind of price tag Fuller carries. He will be a free agent at the end of the year, and it seems unlikely the Texans can afford to sell too high as they hope to accrue future draft assets. Then again, it is also possible the Texans see Fuller as someone they might look to extend in the offseason.
In any case, Fuller is the kind of guy who can stretch the defense and open up underneath routes for Julian Edelman.
Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
If the Patriots are going to engage the Texans on Fuller, they might as well see what the asking price is for Cooks.
The 27-year-old has already bounced back from a rough 2019, grabbing 34 receptions for 427 yards and a pair of scores. Cooks has been especially productive as of late, with 24 receptions for 289 yards in the team’s last three games.
While Cooks is another guy who has posed some concern for interested general managers given his concussion history, he has not missed an extended portion of time due to the head injuries. Plus, there is some familiarity involved here.
Cooks was one of New England’s top receivers in 2017, going for 1,082 yards on a career-high 16.6 yards per reception to go along with seven receiving touchdowns.
Although Cooks is owed a good amount of money under his current contract, that pact also comes with a potential “out” after this year, and the Patriots would not incur any dead cap if they chose to cut him.
Cooks can line up all over the field, and he also beats safeties running seam routes. If it turns out Fuller will be more expensive than Cooks, the Patriots could very well opt for a reunion with the latter.
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross would seemingly be a low-cost buy, and the Patriots should consider adding him depending on Cincinnati’s asking price.
The former ninth overall pick has had the looks of a bust through his first few seasons in the league, but he is unquestionably a burner.
Ross was on the verge of a huge year in 2019. He had 506 yards on 18.1 yards per reception through the first eight games of the season before suffering a major shoulder injury. Things have not looked nearly as rosy since.
The 25-year-old has played in just three games this year as a result of a number of issues and illnesses. However, this makes Ross all the more likely to be sold at a very low cost, if the Bengals opt to trade him.
It would seem McDaniels can find a way to incorporate Ross into the offseason scheme in an effort to stretch opposing secondaries.
Some Patriots fans might argue the team should look at A.J. Green if they pursue any of Cincy’s wideouts. But Green is just as much of an injury risk, and Ross boasts more big-play ability down the field. If nothing else, he is worth a look.