5 takeaways from the Patriots’ decision to start Mac Jones and cut Cam Newton

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The New England Patriots didn’t just decide to start Mac Jones at quarterback. Bill Belichick also elected to release quarterback Cam Newton, the starter from 2020. It was a massive reshuffling of the depth chart, which will have a major impact over the next season.

Jones is ready. That much was clear over the course of training camp and preseason. Why Newton is no longer a Patriot is a bit of a mystery. He has expressed in the past that he wants to be a starter, but he may have a hard time finding one at this point in the offseason. More on that later.

Here are our takeaways on the Patriots’ QB decision.

Mac Jones earned this promotion, and joint practices with the Giants seemed to propel the QB to the top of the depth chart

I have been writing since Aug. 11 that Jones was on a trajectory to start in Week 1. At that point, he hadn't earned it, but he was playing well enough to compete with Newton. Anytime Jones had a bad day, he would return the next day and play significantly better. As a result, Jones improved noticeably each day of training camp. And certainly, he was remarkably more consistent from Day 1 to Day 19. Every time you heard players and coaches discuss Jones, they talked about his work ethic and eagerness to get better. Most important, Jones impressed Belichick. “Mac has come in here and worked hard,” Bill Belichick said on Monday during an appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show. “He’s put in a ton of work every day. I think that has paid off and it’s showed up in the things he’s been able to improve on. If he makes a mistake he learns from it and works hard at it — he works hard in the first place so he doesn’t make mistakes. Maybe he gets it right the first time, which is sometimes hard at that position. His work ethic is very good.” That's how the job was won.

Cam Newton made the best of a tough situation in both 2020 and 2021

Newton has faced a great deal of adversity in New England. In his first year, his skill group dissolved into nothingness. Newton's top option was receiver Jakobi Meyers, who has clearly developed into a solid player but shouldn't be the No. 1 option in a passing offense -- let alone the only option. Julian Edelman suffered an injury, Damiere Byrd flopped, the tight end position was a disaster. And so Newton had to make lemonade out of ... thin air. He finished the season with 2,657 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, 12 rushing touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Newton then entered the 2021 season as QB1, but the attention was fixed upon Jones. Fans cheered for the rookie during training camp. Media members asked about Jones at every twist and turn. Newton felt like old news, even as he put together a strong camp. Throughout this year and last, he was as classy and professional as a quarterback can be. He took the blame for the issues he caused -- and often for issues that had little to do with him. Newton was helpful with the media, answering questions and spending lengthy periods of time with reporters virtually. Newton was as genuine, kind and energetic with his teammates as he was with the reporters. He will be missed.

Newton did everything right to keep his job ... with one exception

He faltered only when he accidentally violated the NFL's COVID-19 protocol for players who are not fully vaccinated. Not only did Newton find himself breaking NFL rules, but he revealed he was unvaccinated. Whether you believe that decision is personal or not, Newton's status as unvaccinated clearly jeopardized his ability to do his job, simply because it meant he was subject to a much sterner set of protocols from the NFL. When Newton had to spend five days away from work due to his violation, Jones got a string of practices where he was the QB1. He showed it wasn't just in name only. He truly looked the part, particularly in the team's joint practice with the Giants, which Belichick explained was a better evaluation period than the preseason game (when teams don't want to show complicated schemes to their coming opponents). Jones faced trickier defenses than he would see in the preseason and still managed to finish 48 of 55 on Day 1. That's when Jones seemed to win the job.

The Patriots' decision to part ways with Newton was odd

Why didn't the Patriots keep Newton as a backup? I can first point to this quote from Newton from Feb. 2021. “Hell no! I can’t go out like that. I hear all of that talk. My pride won’t allow me to do it,” Newton said during a podcast appearance on "I AM ATHLETE." “There aren’t 32 guys better than me.” There's a chance Newton wouldn't settle for a backup job. If Newton didn't ask for the Patriots to cut him, then New England must have decided it could not have the quarterback in the locker room. When -- not if -- Jones struggles during his rookie season, it's likely we would have seen fans, media members and maybe even Patriots players call for Newton's return to the starting job. Cutting Newton eliminates all future questions: Jones is the quarterback of the present and future. That said, that's not a very Belichickian approach. It would be surprising if that's why the Patriots made the decision to let Newton go.

Here's where I think Newton might land

A few options: Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins had been interested in trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 22 different women. If Miami is in the market for a quarterback, Newton could absolutely join the team to compete with Tua Tagovailoa. Houston Texans: The Texans are not going to trade Watson before the start of the season, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. But Houston isn't planning on playing Watson either. The Texans will run with Tyrod Taylor. But GM Nick Caserio signed Newton when they were both in New England in 2020. It's possible Caserio will decide to add Newton to the Texans' roster. Denver Broncos: They have Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. Bridgewater won the starting job, but if Newton entered the mix, would Bridgewater keep it? Washington Football Team: Ron Rivera is the biggest reason why this match makes sense. The problem is that Rivera promoted Ryan Fitzpatrick to the starting job, and he seems like a good candidate for the job. Newton, however, might just be better.

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