Bill Belichick Addresses If Vaccination Status Led To Cam Newton's Release

By Jason Hall

September 1, 2021

Washington Football Team v New England Patriots
Photo: Getty Images

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Cam Newton's vaccination status was not a factor in the team's decision to release the former NFL MVP on Tuesday (August 31).

"No. Look, you guys keep talking about that," Belichick told reporters Wednesday morning via ESPN. "I would just point out that I don't know what the number is, but the number of players, coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp -- who have been vaccinated -- is a pretty high number. So I wouldn't lose sight of that."

The Boston Globe reported the Patriots released Newton on Tuesday and officially naming first-round pick Mac Jones as their starting quarterback.

The news came days after reports that members of the Patriots organization were frustrated with Newton's COVID-19 protocol situation, which has likely "opened" a window of opportunity for first-round draft pick Jones.

Newton shared a statement on his Instagram story, which was captured and tweeted by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, after being released on Tuesday.

"I really appreciate all the love and support during this time but I must say...please don't feel sorry for me!! #imGOOD," Newton wrote.

Mike Giardi, who covers the Patriots for NFL Network tweeted "there is a level of frustration internally" in relation to Newton's situation and acknowledged that Jones would have a major opportunity practicing with the first team offense and during a joint practice with the New York Giants before Newton was eligible to return last Thursday (August 26).

On August 23, the Patriots released an official statement announcing Newton would be away from the team until August 26, due to what has been described as a "misunderstanding" on COVID-19 tests "conducted away from NFL facilities."

"On Saturday, Cam Newton traveled to a Club-approved medical appointment that required him to leave the New England area," the Patriots said in a statement released on their official website. "He received daily Covid tests, which were all negative. Due to a misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities, and as required by the NFL-NFLPA protocols, Cam will be subject to the five-day entry cadence process before returning to the facility. Cam will continue participating virtually in team activities and return to the club facility on Thursday, August 26."

Belichick, who had long reiterated that the starting quarterback job was Newton's to lose since drafting Jones, said the rookie quarterback took advantage of the situation in Newton's absence.

"It is, yes," Belichick said when asked if the Patriots' preseason game against the New York Giants would be a big opportunity for Jones, via Girardi.

The NFL-NFLPA protocols state Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals -- which includes all players -- are exempt from daily testing and allowed to travel if they received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last month, Newton said, "It's too personal to discuss it. I'll just keep it at that" when asked if he's received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Newton was among the Patriots players who tested positive for COVID-19 last season, which resulted in multiple games being postponed.

This season, however, the NFL won't reschedule games during the new 18-week schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players and teams will instead be credited with a loss via forfeit, according to "sources informed of the situation."

Newton's comment came days after the NFL reported 90% of players are fully vaccinated or have had at least one COVID-19 shot, according to league Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy.

The Patriots, however, had not shared specific team totals and Belichick wouldn't confirm whether that was in the team's plans.

“Yeah, we’re not going to get into that,” Belichick said via CBS Boston.

In June, Belichick credited Newton as being "way ahead of where he was last year" during the team's minicamp session this week.

“Yeah, well, Cam is way ahead of where he was last year at this time, there’s no question about that, as you would expect,” Belichick said on Tuesday morning ahead of the Patriots' second minicamp practice via CBS Boston. “He has a good year of experience under his belt, and we’ll start the process at the beginning, and not being in catch-up mode like he was last year.”

Newton didn't sign with New England until June 28, 2020, but teams didn't hold OTAs or minicamps due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so the former NFL MVP didn't miss any practice time.

However, a short window to learn the Patriots' playbook, as well as injuries to himself and key offensive teammates, led to struggles from the veteran quarterback as he looked to have a career resurgence in New England.

“I mean he was really just starting at this point last season, but he’s well ahead of that, just from the year of experience and from the the succession of building blocks that he’s been able to stack up,” Belichick said. “Like all the players that have been here since the start of the OTA and the offseason program back in April, they’ve been able to stack those days and those learning experiences together, ask questions on things that they need clarification on, and build to the next level when they’re ready to put another put another brick on the pile.”

Belichick publicly reaffirmed his stance that the starting quarterback job was Newton's to lose after the Patriots selected Jones at No. 15 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and would remain so until Jones or third-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham were "ready to challenge and compete."

New England also re-signed veteran backup Brian Hoyer last month, who is expected to compete with Stidham for third on the depth chart.

"Cam Newton's our quarterback," Belichick said during the Patriots' draft press conference in April. "Whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, we'll see how that goes. But right now for Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him. I know he's very anxious to get going and get started on it."

In March, the Patriots re-signed Newton, despite a disappointing first season with the franchise. The former NFL MVP threw for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while going 7-8 as a starter in 15 games.

Newton and the Patriots agreed to a one-year contract "worth up to $13.6 million," sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Patriots finished the 2020 season with a 7-9 overall record, having previously won the AFC East during 11 consecutive seasons.

Jones led Alabama to a College Football National Championship and was third in the Heisman voting behind teammate DeVonta Smith and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence during his lone season as Alabama's full-time starting quarterback.

Jones threw for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and four interceptions on 311 of 402 passing -- while also recording one rushing touchdown -- while leading the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record in 2020.

Jones also made four starts in the absence of Tua Tagovailoa following a season-ending injury in 2019.

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