NFL-Patriots say QB Newton's release not related to vaccine status
By Frank Pingue
Sept 1 (Reuters) - New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday the decision to cut quarterback Cam Newton, who missed practice time last week due to what the team called a COVID-19 protocol misunderstanding, had nothing to do with his vaccination status.
Newton, who has not confirmed whether he has been vaccinated against COVID-19, was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2015 and began training camp as the Patriots' starting quarterback. He was outplayed by rookie Mac Jones, who has been named New England's starter for the upcoming season.
Belichick, speaking to reporters for the first time since Newton was cut on Tuesday as the team moved to trim its roster to the NFL-mandated 53 players, was unequivocal when asked if the quarterback's vaccination status played a role in his release.
"No," said Belichick. "No, I mean, look, you guys keep talking about that ... but the number of players and 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."
While Newton has not disclosed his vaccination status, saying it was too personal an issue to discuss, he did go through a five-day program last week that only applies to unvaccinated NFL players.
Once one of the NFL's most electrifying players while a member of the Carolina Panthers, Newton joined the Patriots in July 2020 as the team were desperate to replace Tom Brady, who left to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Newton was impressive in leading the Patriots to victories in two of their first three games of the 2020 season before being sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.
He finished the season throwing just eight touchdowns against 10 interceptions and his future with the team was put in question when the Patriots selected Jones with the 15th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Newton broke into the NFL in 2011 when Carolina took him with the top pick in that year's draft. His best season came in 2015, when he led the team to a 15-1 regular season record en route to the Super Bowl, which Carolina lost to the Denver Broncos.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto
Editing by Bill Berkrot)