NFL News & Analysis

Cam Newton released by Patriots: Mac Jones to start Week 1, potential landing spots for Newton

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Mac Jones (10) during the second half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In a surprise move, the New England Patriots released quarterback Cam Newton before Tuesday’s cut deadline, paving the way for first-round rookie Mac Jones to start Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.

This wasn’t a case of Newton losing the starting job with his preseason performance. His 79.6 PFF grade ranked 12th out of 88 quarterbacks with at least 30 offensive snaps. Instead, it was a case of Jones winning the starting job.

Jones didn’t look like a rookie in his first taste of NFL action. He recorded the third-highest PFF grade of any quarterback this preseason, and he was one of only three quarterbacks to deliver over 70% of his passes accurately, according to PFF’s ball-charting data.

First-round rookie quarterbacks | 2021 preseason
Player PFF grade Accurate pass % Big-time throw %
Trevor Lawrence 78.3 (10th) 58.5% (22nd) 4.5% (t-22nd)
Zach Wilson 85.7 (N/A) 64.7% (N/A) 9.1% (N/A)
Trey Lance 56.7 (46th) 47.4% (48th) 4.5% (t-22nd)
Justin Fields 67.6 (20th) 38.3% (59th) 5.7% (t-13th)
Mac Jones 92.2 (2nd) 70.8% (3rd) 6.9% (7th)

Jones lets New England run an offense that more closely resembles the offenses they ran for years with Tom Brady, something that Newton couldn’t do in 2020 with the 26th-ranked accurate-pass rate among 32 qualifiers.

PFF's Fantasy Projections have Jones passing for over 4,000 passing yards and 26 touchdowns as New England’s starter.

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If preseason showed us anything, it’s that there are still plenty of teams who could use a quarterback of Newton’s caliber on their roster.

In addition to a strong showing this preseason, Newton graded out as the 13th-best quarterback in the NFL through the first 10 weeks of the 2020 regular season before a poor stretch to close the year. Health has been the biggest thorn in his side in recent years, but he has shown to be a capable starting option when healthy.

Newton is also one of the best short-yardage rushing threats in the NFL. No runner has converted a higher percentage of their carries with two or fewer yards to go over the past three seasons.

Highest conversion rate on runs with two or fewer yards to go | Min. 50 carries
Player Conversion rate
Cam Newton 82%
Lamar Jackson 77%
James Conner 75%
Alvin Kamara 75%
Gus Edwards 74%

That added value as a runner makes up for some of his deficiencies as a passer, especially when it comes to accuracy. It wasn’t enough for New England, but it could be for another offense looking for answers at quarterback. At worst, he stands out as one of the better backup quarterback options in the league.

Click here to view Cam Newton's career in PFF Premium Stats…


Obviously, the first teams that have to be mentioned are those that currently have the shakiest quarterback situations. That list includes the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.

Texans’ third-round rookie quarterback Davis Mills did nothing this preseason to indicate that he is ready to step in and lead their offense, earning a 45.5 PFF grade and recording five turnover-worthy plays. That leaves Tyrod Taylor atop the depth chart with Houston preparing to have Deshaun Watson inactive every week next season.

Denver recently named Teddy Bridgewater as the starter over Drew Lock, but it doesn’t seem likely he can elevate them much past a first-round playoff exit, even with a talented roster around him. The same can be said for Newton, to be fair.

Carolina may make the most sense in the event that Sam Darnold — the lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL since entering the league in 2018 — isn’t able to resurrect his career. But there is next to no chance that the Panthers turn back to Newton after moving on last offseason.

The Washington Football Team may end up being the best situation for Newton to stick. He would reunite with former head coach Ron Rivera and enter the 2021 season as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick with the potential to inherit the starting job in 2022, similar to Jameis Winston’s situation with the New Orleans Saints. The glaring issue there is Newton’s vaccination status and how that lines up with Rivera’s comments this offseason on his team’s vaccination rate.

“It is everybody’s choice, everybody’s decision, but you just hope they all fall in line and understand what’s at stake. I’m truly frustrated, I’m beyond frustrated,” Rivera said last month.

It seems unlikely that any move to sign Newton is imminent given the proximity to the season, lack of starting opportunities and perception of Newton’s trajectory around the league.

It may take an injury to a starting quarterback for a deal to get done.

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