Cam Cut: Belichick throws curveball
With Cam Newton released, the Patriots are turning to rookie QB Mac Jones
By KEVIN McNAMARA
So how is that for a training camp curveball?
After weeks of back-and-forth, Cam or Mac, Mac or Cam, Bill Belichick has decided what he’s going to do. He’s saying goodbye to Cam Newton and awarding his starting quarterback job to rookie Mac Jones.
So who had that option in your local bar pool?
The Boston Globe first reported Tuesday that the Patriots have informed Newton that he’s being released.
The Patriots signed Newton to a one-year, team friendly deal last March that included $5 million in base value, but really breaks down to $2 million as a signing bonus, $1.5 million in guaranteed salary and $1.5 million in per-game roster bonuses. Obviously Newton will not earn any roster bonuses.
As the preseason unfolded, it appeared that Newton had won the starting quarterback job. He started all three preseason games, including Sunday’s 22-20 win in New York against the Giants. He also exited the game with the starting offensive linemen and wide receivers Jakobi Myers and Nelson Agholor. Over the three preseason games, Newton played just seven series and less than 40 snaps.
Instead Belichick clearly was trying to get a firm read on Jones’ ability to transfer skills he flashed as an All-American at Alabama to the NFL. He passed evert test, received over 100 snaps in the three games and also shined in one practice session against the Giants last week in Foxboro. Jones finished 36-of-52 for 388 yards with a touchdown with a 97.3 quarterback rating in three preseason games.
Asked about the discrepancy in playing time this summer, Belichick said Monday “that’s true in a lot of situations. Players that have played a long time got fewer snaps, and players that haven’t played as much, rookie players, younger players, got more snaps. You balance off the game snaps with the practice snaps. It’s a big composite. It’s not any one thing, one play, one day. We have a volume of work to look at, and that’s what we’re going to do, and that’s what we want to do,” he said.
This move is not without risk. While Jones put up video game type numbers last season at Alabama, he was blessed with an array of stars at the skill positions. Among them was Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith.
The NFL, however, is a different level challenge. The theory – expressed on the KevinMcSports Hour on WPRO – for the last several months that Newton would return at the starter and Jones could eventually unseat him this season was the safe move. Newton, after all, remains a competent NFL quarterback who could certainly lead the Patriots to a .500 record. At a minimum.
That’s apparently not good enough for the Patriots. They must feel that going with the (23 years old next week) Jacksonville, Fla., native is the so-called “what’s best for the team.”
Jones was the 15th pick in the first round and is the first rookie quarterback drafted by Belichick in the first round. The last QB selected in the first round was Drew Bledsoe in 1998.
Finally, you can only wonder just how much damage Newton’s fumbling of the NFL’s COVID protocols hurt him in this race. Newton missed three practices last week, including the Patriots’ first practice with the New York Giants. Jones took all the Patriots first-team reps in those practices and shined. When Newton returned to work last Thursday he took reps with the first team offense and then started Sunday’s game.
That led to virtually every analyst assuming that Belichick would open the season Sept. 12 against the Dolphins with Newton as his quarterback. There will be cries of Newton not getting a fair shake to win his job back this summer but don’t expect Belichick to pay them any heed. He’s made a decision, and a fairly risky one. Now it’s time to see what Mac Jones is really made of.