FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots released quarterback Cam Newton on Tuesday, clearing the way for rookie Mac Jones to open the season as New England’s quarterback, according to a person with knowledge of the move.
The person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.
His release came hours before NFL teams are to reduce rosters to 53 players and brings an abrupt end to Newton’s stay in New England. Newton went 7-8 as the starter in his first season since Tom Brady’s departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New England finished 7-9 for the year.
Newton started each of New England’s three preseason games, but also missed five days of practice leading into Sunday’s exhibition finale against the New York Giants after a “misunderstanding” of NFL COVID-19 protocols. It required him to sit out a mandatory five-day waiting period for unvaccinated players after he attended an out-of-town doctor’s appointment.
Meanwhile, Jones was impressive throughout training camp, displaying an ability to lead the offense down the field and bounce back from mistakes. He’s also earned the respect of incumbent veterans.
Coach Bill Belichick acknowledged at the time of Newton’s recent COVID-19 protocols absence that it was an opportunity for Jones. The rookie seized it, performing well during the first of two joint practices with the Giants.
“I’m going to be ready whenever my time comes up,” Jones said after Sunday’s 22-20 win over New York. “We got work to do and we’ll get the things fixed and then we’ll just keep rolling.”
Though he didn’t start any exhibition games, Jones took 107 snaps to just 38 for Newton.
The move by the Patriots means this would mark just the second time in the NFL since the merger that more than two rookie quarterbacks started opening games.
Trevor Lawrence already has been named the starter in Jacksonville; Zach Wilson is projected to start for the Jets; and Jones is set to start New England’s opener against Miami on Sept. 12.
Five rookie quarterbacks started openers in 2012.