With less than six hours until the NFL’s Tuesday, August 31, 4:00 p.m. Eastern time deadline for teams to cut their rosters down to 53 players, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has sent shockwaves pulsing across the football landscape.
As first reported by The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride, and since confirmed by ESPN insider Adam Schefter, the Patriots have elected to release quarterback Cam Newton.
“Mac Jones is the starting QB in New England,” McBride tweeted at 10:05 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
The decision comes less than five months after New England selected Jones with the 15th overall pick, and fifth rookie quarterback off the board, in April’s 2021 NFL draft. Jones, who will turn 23 years old on September 5, is expected to become only the third rookie QB in franchise history (Drew Bledsoe and Jim Plunkett) to start the Patriots’ Week 1 opener, per ESPN Stats & Info.
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NFL Insider: ‘At Least 3’ Reasons for Newton’s Release
Despite a highly contested training camp and preseason push from Jones, the general expectation in New England was for the former NFL MVP Newton to begin the 2021 season as the club’s starter. Though some – such as the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels and NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran – had been suggesting Belichick and company should role with Jones.
According to Pro Football Network NFL insider Adam Beasley, there were multiple factors that went into the Patriots’ decision to drop Newton altogether.
“There wasn’t just one reason that Cam Newton is gone. It was a combination of at least three, I’m told: Mac Jones’ emergence, Newton’s vaccination stance (which caused a bit of a stir behind the scenes) and Cam’s uninspiring performance this summer,” Beasley tweeted.
While Newton has kept his COVID-19 vaccination status to himself for personal reasons, a recent development all but confirmed that the former No. 1 overall pick has not been vaccinated to date. On Monday, August 23, Newton was forced away from the Patriots for five days after a “misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities” led to a violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Pro Football Focus reporter Doug Kyed, formerly of Boston-based NESN, also supported Beasley’s claim, tweeting out, “A couple of factors in play with releasing Cam Newton rather than keeping him on as the Patriots’ backup: His command of the locker room, and his vaccination status. Neither make him an ideal choice as a backup behind a rookie QB.”
Jones Jerseys Sell Out Almost Immediately
Shortly after the news broke, Patriots fans flooded the Gillette Stadium Pro Shop to scoop up all things related to their new franchise signal-caller. According to ESPN’s Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, it took less than two hours for all Jones jerseys to sell out.
This story is developing.