Shortly after the Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round, head coach Bill Belichick came out and said Cam Newton would remain the team’s starter until he was unseated. While a lot of coaches might express similar sentiments with respect to their veterans and not really mean it, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes that he doesn’t think “that’s just lip service” from Belichick. Newton didn’t play well in 2020, but he also had a poor supporting cast and Belichick seems to be genuinely fond of him. Volin believes that “the Patriots’ quarterback job is Newton’s until he gets hurt or is clearly holding the team back.”
He adds that at a “minimum” he doesn’t think the team will want Jones to “have to deal with the pressure of playing against Tom Brady in the big return game in Week 4.” Volin highlights the week after their Week 11 Thursday night game against Atlanta as a good time to potentially make the switch. We’ve previously heard that the Patriots are going to hold a true open competition in training camp between Newton and Jones, but Volin seems to think the vet is a somewhat heavy favorite in that battle. If Jones flashes in the preseason that could change things in a hurry.
Here’s more from New England as they look to bounce back from a rough 2020:
- Last week Stephon Gilmore confirmed he isn’t happy with his current contract, saying “I just want what I’m worth,” but also said he wouldn’t be demanding a trade. Gilmore said he hoped his camp and the team could “find common ground” and get something done, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com has an idea of what that might look like. Rather than outright adding guaranteed millions to his existing $7MM salary for 2021, “adding easily-earned incentives to Gilmore’s contract would fall most closely in line with the Patriots’ approach” in recent years, Reiss writes. He highlights how the team added millions in incentives to Rob Gronkowski and Brady’s contracts from 2017-18 to make their compensation more in-line with their market value as a potential blueprint. Reiss thinks the Pats would be more inclined to add incentives for this season rather than do a long-term extension because of concerns about their 2022 salary cap situation, as well as Gilmore’s relatively advanced age (31 in September).
- Gilmore might not be the only member of this Patriots defense to have contract drama coming up. Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and is set to make $8.725MM with another $2MM in incentives available when he makes his return this season. Volin writes that his “hunch” is that Hightower is “worried about the Patriots asking him to take a pay cut.” Hightower turned 31 in March, and obviously hasn’t played since the 2019 season. He did make the Pro Bowl that year and has been a leader in New England for a while, but the Pats have never gotten too sentimental in the past. Gilmore is getting most of the attention, but it sounds like this could be another situation to monitor.