Well how about that for a day in Patriots nation?
It’s almost like Bill Belichick and company knew that the New England offseasons were as dry as the Sahara Desert in the Tom Brady era, so they decided to make up for it by giving us the most exhilarating offseason in the history of the franchise.
Today’s news cycle was the pinnacle of what was a rather divergent offseason and proved to all of us one thing – all we know is that we know nothing.
Without further ado, let’s get right into what happened today, and the implications they all hold.
Cam Newton is released
This is obviously the most substantial, and most shocking news I can remember when it comes to the Patriots since Tom Brady announced he would not be returning in 2020.
Belichick did his best at throwing everyone off his trail by giving Newton all of the first team reps when he returned to action this week in practice, and even gave him the starting nod in Sunday’s game. He had everyone, including me, fooled the entire time.
While I don’t think Belichick planned on having Mac Jones be their starter when he was drafted, or even after week one and two of the preseason, the writing was on the wall for Newton after this week. We were just too blind to see it.
As much as I love Newton and hate talking about this, his vaccination status could potentially derail this team down the road if he remained on the roster. Given the NFL’s harsh COVID protocols, a simple run-in with someone who tests positive would cost an unvaccinated Newton at least five days of quarantine (which is what we saw happen last week).
During the season, missing five days of practice means you can’t play in that week’s game, per Belichick’s rules. If there was a risk that their starting quarterback could miss weeks sporadically throughout the season because of something so simple as getting a COVID test outside of the Patriots facility, that is a risk Belichick was simply unwilling to take.
Newton getting COVID last year more or less derailed an already bleak season outlook for the Patriots, and if Belichick’s aggressive offseason was any indication, he has no intention of letting anything get in the way of this season.
Regardless of the speculation as to why Newton was released, Mac Jones earned this starting job. He played fantastic this preseason as I highlighted in a trio of articles and he leveled the playing field between he and Newton regardless of Newton’s vaccination status. He would’ve had a shot at the starting gig regardless.
Now, the keys to the Patriots offense have been handed down to the rookie signal-caller who will receive a full breadth of regular season games to adapt to NFL football. If the preseason was any indication, Mac is years ahead of a normal rookie learning curve and should be able to not only keep this offense afloat, but to possibly raise the tide completely.
His first start will be an intense trial-by-fire as he is slated to face Brian Flores and that harsh Dolphins secondary. Week four is a story for another article, but boy oh boy, I’m already feeling an exorbitant amount of emotions for that one.
Buckle up, it’s Mac Jones season.
Stephon Gilmore placed on PUP list
This transaction today flew relatively under-the-radar (as it should have), but in my opinion has a greater impact on this year’s team than the quarterback decision does.
Not only does Gilmore not have the contract extension he has been seeking this offseason, he is now slated to miss the first six games of the season recovering from that quad injury.
He is eligible to come off the PUP list in week seven when the Patriots face the Jets, but isn’t limited to only that outcome. What this means is that he could stay on the PUP list for up to six more weeks after that original six weeks before he is ineligible to return.
The Patriots likely made this move so they could free up a roster spot knowing Gilmore wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season.
Here’s to hoping Gilmore returns after week six, because the corner depth behind JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones is suspect to say the least. Jalen Mills has been the guy lining up opposite JC Jackson for the better part of the preseason but hasn’t looked like a reliable option out there. JoeJuan Williams has reportedly looked better this preseason, but I didn’t quite see that on tape. Shaun Wade was acquired last week, so we shouldn’t expect to see much of him to start the year.
People will say “but the Patriots have JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones, it doesn’t matter who their third corner is”. Let me tell you this – it does.
Evan Lazar of CLNS Media Network puts it best when he says running an offense in today’s NFL is like a “Where’s Waldo” book. You have to find the “Waldo” on the opposing defense or the weakest link and go after them until the defense adjusts.
I’m not saying Mills is that type of player, but his skill set translates much better to the inside than the outside. With teams like the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Cowboys in their first six games, it will certainly be a test for the Patriots’ corner depth.
Quinn Nordin making 53-man roster
Nick Folk has a 1.6 million dollar cap hit in 2021, 19th highest in the NFL. That is a pretty high hit for a Patriots team that was throwing out money left and right during free agent spending this offseason. However, it is even worse of a cap hit when you’re paying that player to not be on the team this year.
Folk has been hurt all throughout training camp so rookie undrafted free agent, Quinn Nordin, has been the main benefactor of all the teams’ repetitions. While it has been an up-and-down affair for Nordin, he showed flashes of what led the Patriots to bring him into camp in the first place – a monster leg.
I’m not one to attribute blame, but I feel like the whole field goal kicking operation was out of sorts when Joe Cardona, one of the best long-snappers in the league, was sidelined during camp with an injury. This likely led to some of the mishaps we saw with Nordin in the preseason.
Kicking is so much about everything being smooth and robotic and a slight angle change of the football can be the difference between nailing a field goal and missing wide. We saw Nick Folk, an average NFL kicker, look quite good last year towards the back half of the season because he got more repetitions with the field goal operation.
The Patriots have an added element with Nordin that they didn’t have with Folk, and that is the ability to get points from worse field positions. Instead of settling for a punt at the 40 yard line, they can now opt to go for the field goal knowing that Nordin has the leg to get it there. It sounds boring, talking about kickers, but it’s a make-or-break portion of the game that the Patriots are trying to get more value out of.
The cool thing about Nordin is that he was looking for jobs on LinkedIn after draft night when he didn’t hear his name called. Out of the blue, the Patriots called and gave him an opportunity. Now, he is on an NFL roster. Not to mention that he keeps the “undrafted free agent making the roster” streak alive. A yearly Patriots tradition that has been intact since 2004.
Brian Hoyer gets released
This move came as a bit of a shock to me at first. With this move in addition to Jarrett Stidham being placed on the PUP list, Mac Jones is the only quarterback rostered at the moment.
Now, reports have come out that Hoyer is getting the “FBI Treatment” as I’ve heard it been labeled where the team tells Hoyer to stay in the New England area because he’s coming back sooner rather than later.
The Patriots likely made this move to free up a roster spot on the 53 man list so they can do some more roster shuffling in the next few days. The domino I expect to fall is for the Patriots to place N’Keal Harry on the IR with a return designation, meaning he’s free to return to the team when he’s healthy, and re-sign Hoyer shortly after.
While this move at surface level seemed questionable, it does get one nervous about the prospects of Mac Jones going down. HOPEFULLY, that doesn’t happen and we don’t have to worry about it, but if it does, Hoyer is the last line of defense – and I’m not so sure the Patriots should feel comfortable trotting him out there.
Maybe Jarrett Stidham returns soon this year and the situation becomes less frightening, but for now, Mac needs to be protected at all costs.
Other notable thoughts
Myles Bryant was cut and it was a bit surprising. The Patriots seem to value players like Bryant who have both corner and safety versatility, which Bryant does. More now than ever that Gilmore is going to miss the first six games of the year. It felt like it was shaping up for Bryant to be carried as the 5th or 6th corner on the roster, but I guess the Patriots had other plans.
James Ferentz was cut in favor of newly-acquired Yasir Durant. Durant was a good player coming out of Missouri and had a short stint with the Chiefs. Ferentz was reportedly the best backup lineman the Patriots had during camp and proved that to be true during the preseason games. Looked early on like he had a spot on the 53-man roster, but I’m assuming the Patriots valued Durant’s inside-outside positional versatility over Ferentz’s inside-only skillset.
Second-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings was placed on season-ending IR. Jennings didn’t have an injury that was noted, so this is likely a way to stash him for the coming season. He can still attend meetings and practices, just can’t play for the Patriots this year. I assume the same will be true for rookies like Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe, who were placed on Non-Football Injury (NFI) list. That’s a sneaky way to redshirt those two players who definitely have potential. I like this move for the Patriots in that they keep a good player close as opposed to cutting him outright and letting him hit the free agent market.