Cam Newton has pretty much locked down the starting QB job for the New England Patriots ahead of the final preseason game. Despite justified questions about Newton's ability to win football games after an atrocious 2020, the former MVP has played well enough in practice and two exhibition matches that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are publicly throwing their weight behind Newton. Relative to how the Patriots normally conduct business in public, anyway.
On WEEI's The Greg Hill Show this morning, Belichick said someone would have to play better than Newton to earn the starting job. Which seems like an obvious statement, but with it comes the implication that it's Newton's job to lose. McDaniels has been singing the same tune all summer, too.
If one were to simply look at statistics, the fact that Newton has the edge would come as a surprise because his numbers really were abominable last season. But it's either Newton or Mac Jones. Jones has looked fairly sharp against opposing backups in preseason games so far, yet the fact remains that he is a rookie and Belichick spent too much money on this team to put the fate of everything into the hands of a rookie. Newton is a known quantity and banking on an improvement from a guy of that talent level after the worst season of his career isn't a bad bet.
This isn't like last year, though, where Newton was the only legit option. He isn't going to have nearly the wiggle room he had in 2020, when he was by far the lesser of all evils at the position. Jones obviously hasn't outplayed Newton in camp in the eyes of the coaching staff, but to the untrained eye has looked good enough in live action that he is capable of stepping in and putting up a fight in a game that matters if necessary.
All that means Newton has far less room for error this year. This isn't really a case of the uber-talented rookie breathing down the established starter's neck; Newton was not nearly good enough last year to walk into camp this year with the starting job locked down and Jones doesn't possess the raw talent that demands he start immediately. The hierarchy has been set over the last month of play in practice and games.
New England's schedule is not easy this year, though. Newton cannot go through another stretch of multiple games without a touchdown pass. The team will not win games if he does that again. Belichick won't let the offense go stagnant for weeks at a time for the second year in a row. Jones may not be ready now, but if 2020 was any indication, there is a world in which an unprepared Jones is a better option than a ready and healthy Newton.
It's Newton's job for now. But he should be feeling the pressure. The Patriots are committed to a playoff push in 2021 and if Newton doesn't raise his level of play, Jones will be trotting out there sooner rather than later. Soon we'll see if Newton can deliver.