The day after the New England Patriots released Cam Newton, there was neither a flowery goodbye for the quarterback nor overflowing praise of rookie Mac Jones.
Bill Belichick was tight-lipped as ever when asked about his reasons for cutting Newton and how Jones won the job.
“Yeah, I’m not going to go through all the different things with any player on that, so we’ll just leave it the way it is and go from there,” Belichick said when asked if Newton was considered for a backup role.
Belichick was unequivocal when asked if Newton’s vaccination status played a role in the QB’s release.
“No,” he responded. “No, I mean, look, you guys keep talking about that, and I would just point — I don’t know what the number is, you guys can look it up, you guys have access to a lot of information — but the number of players and coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number, so I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”
Glossed over in Belichick’s response to the vaccine question is the fact that NFL protocolgreatly favors vaccinated players. Having a backup who could potentially miss games due to close contacts — regardless of whether they test positive or not — isn’t a very Belichickian move. One of the greatest talents a player possesses is being available, Belichick’s mentor, Bill Parcells, was fond of noting. Agree or disagree with vaccination, it’s a simple fact that, given NFL protocols, unvaccinated players are at a greater risk of not being available on a given gameday.
Newton missed five days after a miscommunication regarding COVID-19 protocols, which seemingly opened the door for Jones to swipe the starting gig. Belichick reiterated that Newton’s vaccination status for that stint didn’t play a role in the decision.
“No, we have other players on the team who aren’t vaccinated as I would say probably every other team in the league and we’ve had minimal, but throughout the league, there have been a number of, quite a high number of, I’d say, players who have had the virus who have been vaccinated, so your implication that vaccination solves every problem is just not really, I’d say that has not been substantiated based on what’s happened in training camp this year, that’s all,” he said.
The rate of players testing positive for COVID-19 is seven times higher for unvaccinated players, per NFL and NFLPA data.
It’s not shocking to hear Belichick say Newton’s vaccination status had nothing to do with the release. As evidenced by the firestorm currently surrounding Urban Meyer in Jacksonville after saying the quiet part out loud, coaches and GMs are expected to deny it had any factor.
Belichick noted many factors went into releasing Newton.
“Well, I mean, that’s our decision,” the coach said. “We’ve had weeks of meetings on all players, so it’d be impossible to rehash everything that happened at the position or any other position. But ultimately there’s a lot of factors that are involved, and we made our decisions.”
Belichick not wanting to discuss the reasons behind cutting Newton is not a surprise. But it’s semi-surprising that the coach didn’t offer much praise to his former QB. Even Belichick, in his most mumbled state, usually provides at least base praise to outgoing key players.
The Patriots coach also wouldn’t offer any perfunctory praise for Jones, who swiped the starting gig with sterling preseason play and training camp practices.
“Again, I’m not going to go into decisions and timing and all that,” he said when asked about Jones’ performance. “We’d be here forever. It’s a process. It was a very competitive situation at that position. Both players took pretty close to an equal number of repetitions in total between practices, games, going all the way back to the spring. So that’s what it was.”
Indeed there were numerous reasons to cut Newton. The biggest one, however, was Jones showing the leap from Alabama to the NFL wasn’t too big. The rookie is ready for the show, and it’s his gig moving forward.
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