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Bill Belichick wanted Cam Newton, and Bucs fans should be grateful

John Romano | It's never good to be on the wrong side of a Bill Belichick personnel decision. So are you worried the Patriots coach opted for Cam Newton over Tom Brady?

Tom Brady or Cam Newton?

The Buccaneers had that choice. And it appears that it was no choice at all. Tampa Bay went after Brady with an unprecedented zeal, offering him the largest guaranteed deal ever signed by a player on the opposite side of 40.

Cam Newton or Tom Brady?

The Patriots had that choice, too. And with age, skills, health and experience all part of the equation, coach Bill Belichick presumably decided Newton was a better value. A $7.5 million, one-year deal for a battered former MVP looked better than a $50 million, two-year deal for a living legend.

Brady or Newton? For that matter, Brady or Newton or Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers or Jameis Winston?

This will be the subplot of the 2020 season for Tampa Bay. The second-guesser’s delight.

Related: Patriots sign QB Cam Newton to replace Tom Brady: reports

If the Bucs win a dozen games and go deep into the playoffs, then nothing else matters. Signing Brady would be the same stroke of genius you thought it was in March, and Tampa Bay will forever play a small role in the story of history’s greatest quarterback.

But what happens if Brady gets hurt, or doesn’t mesh with the offensive game plan or suddenly starts playing like you’d expect a 43-year-old quarterback to play? How many Bucs fans will be peeking at New England box scores to see how Newton is doing? Or cursing aloud if Bridgewater turns out to be a difference-maker in Carolina?

Quarterbacks who have won MVP awards do not often hit the open market. In the last decade, Peyton Manning was the only one to switch teams. And now both Brady and Newton have packed their bags and moved on within three months of each other.

Of course, if you look at the back of their football cards you know that Brady has the grander pedigree. He’s done it longer and he’s done it better. And, even though he’s 11 years older, he even looks healthier than Newton, who has missed 16 of his last 18 games with shoulder and foot injuries.

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So, yeah, it makes sense that the Bucs went all-in on Brady. It even makes sense that Brady’s contract has more guaranteed money than Bridgewater, who was 7 years old when Brady put on his first NFL uniform.

But there is risk here at a level not often seen in the NFL. You just don’t guarantee $50 million to a player who can see Social Security checks on the horizon. Guaranteed money in the NFL is a rarity. It usually only goes to players in their prime years.

According to spotrac.com, there are a dozen current contracts in the NFL with at least $50 million in guaranteed money. Eleven of those 12 were signed by players when they were between 24 and 34. And then there is Brady, who turns 43 in August.

If nothing else, that explains what the Patriots did this week.

After allowing the most successful quarterback in league history to walk away in March because they didn’t want to invest in him, the Pats finally responded by signing a quarterback who has lost his last eight starts and was still without a job a month away from training camp.

It’s all about risk vs. reward.

Related: John Romano: While MLB is returning, minor-league dreams are still on hold

Newton’s $7.5 million contract is reportedly incentive-heavy. If he doesn’t win the starting job or plays poorly, the Patriots are on the hook for very little. And if he has a bounce-back season, New England could get an elite-level quarterback for a fraction of the normal cost. Plus, the Patriots could get a compensatory draft pick if Newton parlays his 2020 season into a big free-agent deal next year.

For New England, it made sense.

The Bucs, on the other hand, went big on Brady. They spent a ton of money on him and have no solid plan for a future quarterback. But Tampa Bay is 18 years away from its last playoff victory and did not want to lose a window of opportunity with a young, talented roster.

For the Bucs, it made sense.

So, Tom Brady or Cam Newton?

Stay tuned.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow at @romano_tbtimes.

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