After entering training camp as New England’s starting quarterback, Cam Newton didn’t just lose that job on Tuesday — he lost his roster spot, too.
The Patriots cut Newton, the N.F.L.’s most valuable player in 2015, as they began paring their roster to the league-mandated 53 players before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The move allows the rookie Mac Jones, who excelled during camp and in the preseason, to start Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 12. Newton’s release was first reported by The Boston Globe.
Newton, 32, started all three of New England’s preseason games, including Sunday’s preseason finale at the Giants, when he played two series. But he missed three days of practice last week because of what the team said was a “misunderstanding” related to Covid-19 protocols after a team-approved medical appointment out of the area. His absence enabled Jones to take more first-team reps.
“I feel like everybody’s way ahead of where they were last year,” Coach Bill Belichick said of Newton on Tuesday, hours before news of his release surfaced. “Certainly, he started at a much higher point than what he did last year, so definitely moving in the right direction.”
Last season, his first in New England, Newton’s ups and downs were emblematic of the league’s struggles to play during the pandemic. He was infected with the coronavirus early last season, missing one game and forcing the N.F.L. to push back the Patriots’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs to a Monday night after Newton tested positive. The Patriots, though, flew in two separate planes — one for players and staff who were exposed to Newton and a second plane for everyone else.
After the season ended, Newton said his time away from the team so soon after arriving made it harder for him learn the playbook.
Once one of the league’s most electrifying players as the franchise quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Newton had the misfortune of sustaining a serious foot injury in 2019, limiting him to two games, a few months before a new regime took over the front office and a pandemic disrupted off-season player movement. The Panthers released him, but as other quarterbacks signed quickly, Newton languished for months, reportedly unwilling to be a backup.
In the depressed market for his services, the Patriots saw an opportunity. After cutting ties with Tom Brady, the team signed Newton to a one-year, incentive-heavy deal in June 2020, and he promptly beat out Jarrett Stidham in training camp. Starting 15 games for New England, Newton rushed for 12 touchdowns and completed 65.8 percent of his passes, though the offense sputtered for vast chunks of a season undermined by infrequent practices and meager skill players.
The Patriots, wanting an established quarterback on the roster before free agency began, re-signed Newton in what was just a prelude to a bigger investment at the position. For the first time in his 22 drafts in New England, Belichick drafted a quarterback in the first round, taking Jones at No. 15.
No defense in 2020 could stop Jones, who at Alabama threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions, leading the nation with 11.2 yards per attempt and a 77.4 completion percentage. A traditional pocket passer, Jones was an outlier among the top tier of quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the draft.
But the Patriots were enamored with his awareness, steady improvement and command of the offense. In the preseason, he completed 36 of 52 passes for 388 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m going to be ready whenever my time comes up,” Jones said Sunday night.
That time has come, and on Sept. 12 against the Miami Dolphins, he will likely start opposite the player he succeeded at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa. Newton, 32, could have options on teams with unsettled backup situations, among them the Jets, Dallas, Houston and Washington.