Wednesday morning’s media session with Patriots coach Bill Belichick essentially confirmed we’ll never know much about the week that may have cost veteran quarterback Cam Newton his job.
The former MVP, who started 15 games for New England last season after Tom Brady’s departure, lost his job to rookie first-round quarterback Mac Jones during training camp and is no longer with the team after his release Monday.
Interestingly, Belichick didn’t offer anything in terms of a send-off for Newton despite a litany of positive comments about the quarterback in the past year. The Patriots coach also wouldn’t confirm whether or not Newton had been offered a backup quarterback role with the team before being cut.
But in an arguably more strange part of Belichick’s presser, the Patriots coach seemed to lose patience with questions about Newton’s vaccination status and its effect on the quarterback competition.
When asked about whether the quarterback’s release had anything to do with his being unvaccinated, Belichick flatly answered, “No.”
That’s not that surprising given what Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars are going through after Meyer essentially admitted his team took players’ vaccination statuses into account when making cuts. The last thing Belichick wants is an NFLPA investigation into his personnel decisions.
But then things got weird as Belichick then tried to further deflect from the questions about Newton by referencing breakthrough infections in vaccinated league personnel and players.
“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,” he said.
During a follow-up question from the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, the Patriots coach also revealed there are still players on the team who are unvaccinated, though he has also in past said “most” of New England’s players are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Your implication that vaccination solves every problem has not been substantiated based on what’s happened in training camp this year,” Belichick added.
For one thing, this is not the first time Belichick has said this recently. He brought up a similar point when addressing Newton’s absence from the team last week, trying to use the incidence of positive COVID tests among vaccinated players and coaches as a way to deflect from talking about vaccination statuses.
Going the “personal decision” or “I’m not going to talk about that” route is one thing, of course (and arguably the safer thing to do given the Jaguars situation).
But using positive tests among vaccinated players and staff as a talking point misses the mark for a few reasons.
Several NFL insiders have pointed out since Belichick’s comments that the rate of positive COVID tests is seven times higher in unvaccinated players than vaccinated ones. While COVID vaccines don’t stop people from contracting the virus entirely, far higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths take place in unvaccinated people versus those who are vaccinated.
As such, simply noting the incidence of breakthrough cases as cover for unvaccinated players overlooks the rest of the evidence seen throughout the league.
Furthermore, even if vaccination is a personal choice Belichick would rather not talk about (which is understandable), NFL rules have made the competitive advantage of being vaccinated far too obvious not to be discussed.
That’s another thing: Belichick’s frequent deflection about being “compliant” with the NFL’s COVID protocols when he’s asked about the vaccine rings hollow after the Patriots were not, in fact, compliant with the league during the Newton situation. Though we still don’t know the exact specifics of who was at fault for the miscommunication, it remains a blight on Belichick and the Patriots’ insistence that they’re doing whatever they can to comply with league rules.
While one can understand not wanting to answer vaccination questions all the time, Belichick’s dodge of this question arguably went a bit out of bounds.
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