The Patriots continue to list quarterback Cam Newton as the starter on the unofficial depth chart. If a game that counts were being played on Sunday, he’d likely be the starter.
Three weeks from Sunday, the Patriots will be playing a game that counts, against the Dolphins. Barring injury or a disastrous performance in the preseason finale (if he plays in the preseason finale), Newton likely will be the starter.
Here’s the question: What will his margin for error be?
Last year, coach Bill Belichick benched Newton on a couple of occasions for Jarrett Stidham. Stidham wasn’t nearly good enough to seize the job when given the chance. In contrast, rookie Mac Jones could be.
That’s quite possibly how it could go. Newton, who earned a second year with the Patriots and who is very well liked by the coaching staff and the organization, gets the first crack at the job. If he performs well, he can hold off Jones. But if Newton falters enough to prompt Belichick to give Jones a chance, Jones could potentially take full advantage of it.
Although nothing about Belichick is conventional, the conventional NFL coach would believe that it’s easier to go from veteran to rookie than from rookie to veteran. Conventional coaches worry about benching a rookie and shattering his confidence.
Belichick may not worry about that. One of his former lieutenants, Dolphins coach Brian Flores, yanked rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on multiple occasions last year. It didn’t affect Tua; Jones quite possibly wouldn’t be affected by being promoted and demoted, either.
There’s still a chance, remote as it may be, that Belichick will select a starter for each game, based on the game plan devised to beat the defense the Patriots will be facing. That’s definitely an unconventional approach. But if anyone could ever pull it off, it’s Belichick.
Whatever the Patriots do, things look a lot brighter for the franchise in the second season post-Brady. With Brady returning on October 3, Belichick will want to know which quarterback gives him the better chance to send Brady back to Tampa with an L.