During an appearance on The Greg Hill Show on Monday morning, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said backup quarterback Mac Jones would have to outplay Cam Newton to take the job away from him.
“I think the fact Cam started last year and he’s here, somebody is going to have to play better than him,” Belichick said, via WEEI.com. “We’re not going to take a job and say, ‘OK, here, this is gift-wrapped for somebody.’ … All the players that are here are being evaluated. They all have an opportunity to excel, or other players may perform better than them. We’ll just have to see how that goes. I can’t control any of that. We’re certainly not just going to hand out roles to players until they earn them and whether somebody earns that role or not is dependent upon their performance. Their consistent performance, not over a couple of plays, or a really short window. It’s the consistent performance. That’s what training camp is for.”
Shortly after Belichick spoke, the Patriots announced that Newton won’t be attending training camp for at least three days following a “misunderstanding about [COVID] tests conducted away from NFL facilities” over the weekend while he was traveling for a team-approved medical appointment away from the Boston area, opening the door for Jones.
Though Newton, who missed a game last season after testing positive for the coronavirus, reportedly tested negative each day for COVID-19, the “misunderstanding” about what was required to meet the NFL and NFLPA safety protocols means he will be subjected to a five-day, re-entry cadence and the earliest he’s eligible to return is Thursday.
Neither the team nor Newton has said whether the 32-year-old quarterback is vaccinated or not, but the frequency with which he has been tested as well as his mask usage during the preseason strongly indicates he is not. “I think it’s too personal for each and every person to kind of discuss it, and I’ll just keep it at that,” Newton said earlier this month when asked whether he had been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Now, given this development, that decision is going to cost Newton valuable reps during joint practice sessions with the New York Giants this week and it may end up costing him his job as the starter in New England if Jones, who was drafted in the first round at No. 15 overall, is able to excel during all the extra work he will receive this week. As NFL reporter Judy Battista pointed out on Twitter, Newton deciding not to get the vaccine is “a clear example of how being unvaccinated is a competitive disadvantage to an individual player as well as to his team.”
While getting vaccinated or not is certainly a personal decision, it comes down to performance, not politics, for a player like Newton. Coming off a horrible year and trying to revive his career in his second season in New England after being signed prior to last season following Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay, Newton cannot afford to miss a day of practice, let alone three, as he is holding on to the starting job by a thread. Already fairly loud, the calls for Jones to be named the starter will only get louder in Newton’s absence and Belichick, who has said in the past that the best ability is availability, may have no choice but to listen. And if Belichick was already privately leaning toward starting Jones but didn’t want to deal with the fallout of benching Newton, this is an iron-clad excuse to make the switch.
“If I think something would help us win, I would consider it,” Belichick said on Monday. “The goal is not to have this happen, or have that happen, it’s to work through our system and ultimately do what we feel like is best for the team.”
Nowadays, what’s best for the team includes getting vaccinated. Hopefully it’s not too late for Newton