When New England selected Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, it was pretty evident that a new era was on the horizon. The Patriots were coming off a season in which they went 7-9, their first losing record since 2000. Cam Newton was mediocre at best and looked nothing like his former self that fans were accustomed to in Carolina. A change was surely coming, but many were shocked when that change came much earlier than expected.
The veteran quarterback was cut on Tuesday, and Jones was named the team’s starter heading into the regular season. The Alabama product completed 36 of 52 (69%) passes in the preseason to go along with one touchdown. He posted a 97.3 quarterback rating and didn’t commit a turnover through his three appearances.
Jones Takes Over
As soon as Jones was drafted, there were always expectations that he would eventually be starting under center for New England someday. It was just hard to imagine that he would be starting in Week 1 of his rookie season. But Cris Collinsworth said it best on Twitter Tuesday morning: Mac Jones won that starting job.
Newton wasn’t exemplary by any means last year, and there is really no reason to believe that he was going to effortlessly bounce back come this season had he still been in Foxborough. The receiving core is much improved with the additions of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but that wouldn’t have meant all that much considering it appeared Newton struggled to throw the ball more than 15 yards downfield in his first year with the franchise.
The starting position was Newton’s to lose and he did just that. A 22-year-old came to the Northeast hungry, and success appeared to be the only meal that was going to eradicate that hunger. It’s been made clear time and time again that Bill Belichick doesn’t care who you are or what you did in the past, he cares about what you will bring to the team in the present. In his eyes, Jones was going to bring more, and Belichick sent a former MVP packing just five months after he had re-signed with the team.
Lack of Depth
Going with Jones as your starter for Week 1 was honestly probably the right move. Why hold back? You might as well throw the guy you hope to be your franchise quarterback in the near future right into the thick of things. With that being said, it leaves some questions as to how Belichick and his staff will handle a now somewhat depleted depth chart at the QB position.
Since the Newton news consumed the spotlight, Brian Hoyer’s release flew a bit under the radar on Tuesday. The 12-year veteran was also cut, leaving Jones and Jarett Stidham as the only two quarterbacks on the roster.
Hoyer looks like he’ll reside on the practice squad for the time being, but as it stands right now, New England is essentially putting its entire season on Jones’ shoulders. If he gets hurt, it’s game over. Stidham surely isn’t a viable option if the Patriots want to find themselves back over .500, and the quarterback market is looking like a relatively high-end flea market at best as of right now.
This creates a concerning situation in Foxborough. While giving Jones the chance to shine right out of the gate could very well be beneficial for his development, it could also be a train wreck. Rookie quarterbacks that get thrown into the fire with high expectations at the beginning of their careers don’t always pan out. It would be a step in the wrong direction to watch Jones follow a course similar to that of a guy like Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III, who could just never stay healthy.
Ideally Jones would have gotten some time to soak everything in and to marinate a little bit before getting the keys to New England’s offense. But the situation at hand is what it is. The Mac Jones era is underway, and whatever is destined to happen is going to happen. It’s exciting, but also a bit scary to know that a guy with three preseason games under his belt is essentially the last line of defense between a good season and a potentially disastrous one.
Reasons for the Move
So then, why was Newton cut? Well, there could be a variety of reasons for the move.
Belichick has been adamant that it was not because of Newton’s vaccination status, but it’s safe to assume that it had to play at least a slight role in the decision. The former Heisman winner was sidelined due to the virus last season and missed three practices last week because of a misunderstanding with the COVID-19 protocols. Maybe it meant nothing as Belichick noted in Wednesday’s press conference, but behind closed doors, maybe it meant a lot more.
While Newton might not be what he once was, there is no doubt that he could at the very least serve as a backup quarterback, especially here in New England. So, when Newton heard that he was no longer going to be the starter, is he the one that wanted out? We know that Newton has one of the bigger egos among quarterbacks, so it’s definitely a possibility. He’s confident, and a lot of times in his career he’s been able to back his attitude up with his performance. It hasn’t happened as of late, but that ego is still there.
So did that ego take over? Was Superman not willing to take off his cape to ride the bench for a few games or for an entire season? There hasn’t really been any reporting suggesting Newton lost his temper due to the choice to go with Jones over him, but knowing Newton, you would have to assume that he isn’t all that satisfied right now. The 32-year-old may not have been willing to sit back and watch a kid 10 years younger than him take over and try to bring the Patriots back to the playoffs.
A New Era Begins
More things will probably come out in the following days about why Newton was really cut. It likely won’t remain a mystery for all that long. Regardless of what is next for one of the league’s most premiere scramblers, fans should wish him nothing but the best. He embraced the Patriots culture, seemed to enjoy his time in New England and often kept a somewhat positive attitude in the midst of some pretty grave times in Foxborough.
As one era closes, another one begins. It’s time for Mac Jones to show what he can bring to New England. It’s his offense now, and the former Alabama standout has a golden opportunity to help the best NFL team of the century reclaim its throne that it had once held for so long.
Photo: (Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe Staff)