It wasn’t about the vaccine, so says Bill Belichick.
The Patriots head coach said the decision to release Cam Newton was not about the quarterback not being vaccinated, as many have speculated.
“No. Look, you guys keep talking about that,” Belichick told reporters on Wednesday morning. “I would just point out that I don’t know what the number is, but the number of players, coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp — who have been vaccinated — is a pretty high number. So I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”
But out of the 68 players to test positive for COVID in the first three weeks of August, the incidence rate was seven-times more for unvaccinated players, according to CBS.
The decision to release Newton, who was competing with rookie Mac Jones for the starting spot, came a week after he missed five days of practice for violating COVID-19 protocols.
The NFL and NFLPA have stated that personnel decisions should not be based on vaccine status — even though the two sides agreed to policies that essentially reward players for being vaccinated.
So, even if it had factored into the decision, it is unlikely Belichick would admit as much.
The NFL is investigating Jaguars coach Urban Meyer after he said Tuesday that vaccine status did play a role in the team’s decision-making.
The 32-year-old Newton also struggled throughout much of the preseason after the Patriots brought him back on a one-year deal following a mediocre first season in New England.
Belichick said the competition between Jones and Newton was “very competitive.”
“Both players took pretty close to an equal number of repetitions in total between practice, games, going all the way back to the spring,” he said.
The Patriots now have Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer backing up Jones.