Cam Newton beat out Jarrett Stidham handily in the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition last summer. But the incumbent Patriots starter faces stiffer competition this year.
The Patriots selected Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but head coach Bill Belichick still went out of his way to declare Newton “our QB” in his ensuing video conference call with the media. He did open the door for Jones — or Stidham — to beat out Newton, however.
“Somebody would have to play better than he does,” Belichick said.
The idea of a rookie quarterback is fun. The Patriots haven’t had to start one since 2016 when Jacoby Brissett filled in for a suspended Tom Brady and injured Jimmy Garoppolo. The last Patriots rookie quarterback to start the majority of a season was No. 1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe back in 1993. Bledsoe was the last quarterback to be drafted in the first round by New England.
The Patriots clearly hope Jones is the future. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have spent the 15th overall pick on the Alabama product. But it will be fun to watch Newton’s development in his second season with the organization, as well.
Newton should begin organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and the preseason as New England’s starter. He struggled in 2020, but look at the receiving weapons that surrounded him in the offense: A banged-up Julian Edelman (on the verge of retirement) for six games, James White for 14 games, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry, Rex Burkhead (for 10 games) and top tight end Ryan Izzo.
Byrd signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears on Tuesday. Izzo was traded to the Houston Texans for a seventh-round pick. They led the Patriots in snaps among wide receivers and tight ends, respectively.
New England lost Edelman and hasn’t re-signed Burkhead, but the team added tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who joins White, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden in the running back stable.
We won’t pretend Newton is suddenly throwing to the NFL’s most explosive receiving corps, but it’s certainly better than the 2020 squad. Better passing targets should mean a better Newton.
So, before the Patriots determine whether Jones can beat out Newton, they must first see how much better Newton looks with better weapons surrounding him. New England will get a good look in practices and an even better indication of Newton’s progress in the preseason.
Jones should get some top reps to prove himself, however. New England won’t know what they have in the rookie quarterback without giving him the best possible chance to succeed, and that will come with playing alongside the Patriots’ starting offensive line (Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Trent Brown) and top pass catchers.
Jones is a more natural fit for the offense New England ran for 20 years with Tom Brady under center. He’s also a rookie with just 17 games of college starting experience. In an ideal world, Jones would sit for a year to bulk up, improve his arm strength and learn the offense before getting under center in a starting role.
We’ll see how long Newton can hold him off. He needs to improve, and there’s reason to believe he can and will. But Jones is knocking on the door.