Patriots Newton Cut Football

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) walks off the field after a Sept. 13, 2020 game against the Dolphins in Foxborough, Massachusetts. AP photo

Boy. Say this about Bill Belichick.

Twenty-plus years on the job, and he still knows how to surprise us.

Tuesday morning began with a bombshell: Cam Newton, the apparent starting New England Patriots quarterback when we all went to bed Monday night, had not just lost his spot on the field, but had lost his spot on the roster, according to a number of news organizations. Belichick had not benched the former MVP, he’d cut him.

That suddenly, the Cam Newton Era was over. The Mac Jones Era, ready or not, has begun.

This was more than a curveball. This was more than zigging when expected to zag. This was more than Belichick keeping people guessing, keeping them on their toes, expecting the unexpected or whatever cliche you choose to use.

This was the most surprising, shocking and staggering personnel move of Belichick’s 22 years as HC of the NEP.

This beats Lawyer Milloy in 2003. It beats trading for Randy Moss in 2007 or signing Darrelle Revis in 2014 or acquiring Antonio Brown in 2019. It even beats moving on from Tom Brady in 2020.

Newton is no longer on the level of any of those names. But this jumps to the top of the list because of the context and circumstances. Milloy was a star, but one of two starters at safety — and one with a troublesome contract. There were rumblings surrounding the Moss trade before it went down, and the Patriots were at the top of the list of suitors once Revis and Brown became free. As for Brady, the headline was a punch to the gut, but local and national media had warned us of the not just possibility, but probability of his departure for months.

With Newton, however? To be not benched, but released, and at the most important and high-profile position on the team? Nothing beats your — by all indications — starting quarterback being out the door in a matter of hours.

There were no signs this was coming. Had Newton seen his reps decline while Jones’ increased, the atomic nature of Tuesday’s news would have been defused a bit. Had Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff refused to even so much as touch the topic of who was the leader in the race for the starting job, that would have had the same effect. Instead, Newton got the majority of the first-team reps. Belichick said he was the starter. Josh McDaniels said he was the starter.

So, OK, point taken. Newton was the starter. An impressive showing against the Eagles in the second preseason game seemed to end the race. Even when the mess with Newton’s medical procedure and the COVID protocols took place, Newton was back to starting reps when he returned. Jones was letting some frustration seep through at his media availabilities. Newton got the start in the preseason finale with the first-teamers against the Giants, with Jones coming in afterward. Since when does the Week 1 starter, at quarterback of all positions, come in off the bench in the final preseason game?

Broadcaster Scott Zolak, who’s plugged in with the team and, most importantly, with Belichick, called the race right there.

Patriots Eagles Football

New England Patriots’ Cam Newton warms up before an Aug. 19 preseason game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. AP photo

“I don’t know any team in the National Football League that starts a quarterback three games in a row, and goes to another guy,” he said. “This guy’s your starter.”

It seemed to validate all the reporters and media members who refused to buy into the notion that Jones was making a serious bid for the starting job, people like the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, who tweeted on Aug. 3 “If there’s a QB competition at Patriots camp, I’m not seeing it. Cam Newton is QB1.”

As it turns out, a lot can happen in a little less than a month. And based on the way things went down, they can happen in less than a week.

One of two things seems to have happened, and neither one makes 100 percent sense. Either Belichick knew he was going with Jones, and still continued to give Newton the reps and the seemingly case-closing final preseason start. But how much sense would that make, not to give a rookie quarterback all the reps he could get with the players with whom he’ll be playing against Miami in Week 1?

Or, Belichick had Newton pegged as his starter up until the Giants game on Sunday, and something happened between the end of that game and Tuesday morning to change his mind.

There’s no clear answer. With Belichick, there rarely is. He always has his reasons, and they often don’t follow the template we would expect. He’s made a habit of cutting players and trading players, and choosing to sign some and not others, then leaving us scratching our heads at what the logic could be.

Those moves often work. They sometimes don’t. They always surprise us.

And none of them have more than the one he made Tuesday morning.

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