The New England Patriots were elated when quarterback Mac Jones fell to them at the No. 15 pick. But while the franchise is high on its next potential face of the franchise, there will be a quarterback battle with Cam Newton.
In their first season without Tom Brady, New England was a massive disappointment in 2020. Beyond its 7-9 record, the Patriots’ had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. Recognizing the urgency to fix the problem, Bill Belichick got aggressive this offseason.
While things didn’t work out for Newton in his first season with the Patriots, Belichick raved about the veteran quarterback. It might not have translated into on-field success, partially due to a decline after he tested positive for COVID-19, but Newton’s work ethic and leadership impressed the coaching staff.
New England ultimately re-signed Newton, penciling him in as the starter for the 2021 NFL season. With an improved offensive line and a significantly improved cast of weapons, everything was in place for a turnaround. But when Belichick drafted Jones, there was instantly a quarterback controversy in Foxborough.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Saturday’s "SportsCenter" (h/t Bleacher Report) that Belichick remains “bullish” on Newton and plans on the veteran to be the starting quarterback for the upcoming season. As for Jones, the rookie won’t see the field until his work is “undeniable.”
It shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Right after drafting Jones, Belichick hinted that Newton was still the projected starter heading into the summer. There’s also a reason the organization feels optimistic about what he could do next season.
Newton was playing quite well before contracting the coronavirus, despite having a shortened training camp to learn the offense and zero preseason games to get comfortable with the personnel around him. But through his first three games, he looked like a potential NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Many professional athletes have detailed how COVID-19, even after they stopped testing positive, affected them. From players in their prime having issues breathing to the effects it had on the ability to mentally process things at an elite level, the side effects were very real.
Newton is fully recovered and returns to a much better situation. The Patriots signed Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, creating an outstanding duo at tight end. For a team that runs heavy 12 personnel and a scheme that heavily relies on short, quick passing, everything is better than it was last season.
There are also legitimate reasons to debate whether Jones is ready to step into Josh McDaniels’ offense. As The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak detailed extensively, Alabama became a vertical offense with Jones under center, and that approach is a stark contrast to how the Patriots operate.
Jones also isn’t an extremely gifted player physically. In terms of pure talent, he was the fifth-best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft class. We also don’t know if he was purely a product of the perfect environment, playing behind a dominant offensive line with star receivers (Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, John Metchie III).
Ultimately, it would be stunning if Newton isn’t the starter in Week 1. Given the improvements made across the Patriots’ roster, a strong start to the season might keep him entrenched in that role for the entire season.