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The Patriots drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick Thursday night, but coach Bill Belichick says the starting job still belongs to Cam Newton.

“Cam’s our quarterback,” Belichick said at the conclusion of the first round. “At whatever time Jarrett [Stidham] or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, then we’ll see how that goes.”

Newton was New England’s starting quarterback last season, although his performance left much to be desired. The Patriots averaged 180.6 passing yards per game, which ranked 30th in the NFL, and recorded only 12 passing touchdowns, which tied for dead-last.

Throughout the year, Newton was typically the first to acknowledge the need for improvement. Since the season ended, he has been vocal about how testing positive for coronavirus in Week 4 had a domino effect on the remainder of his season, forcing him to play catch-up with the playbook.

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Despite the offensive struggles, however, the Patriots elected to bring Newton — a popular player in the locker room — back on a one-year deal. They’ve also supplied him with additional weapons in tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

According to Belichick, Newton will be the starter until he is outplayed. Stidham, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has not yet started a game in his first two seasons.

“Somebody would have to play better than he does,” Belichick said.

Jones already seems to have that understanding of his role.

“Cam’s awesome,” he said Thursday shortly after getting drafted. “I’ve only heard great things when talking to people that I know from the Patriots about how great of a guy he is and how much everyone loves him.

“He just has fun with it, and I do, too, so hopefully we can kind of have fun together, and I’ll help him out. I mean, it’s his show and I’m just there to support him and then kind of just help out the team in whatever way I can.”

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The Patriots recently began voluntary OTAs, with mandatory minicamp slated to take place at some point between May 24 and June 18. Training camp is scheduled to begin at the end of July.

Belichick acknowledged the development process with Jones will be rather involved, but he expressed an eagerness and excitement to get going.

“Right now, for Mac, he’s just got a lot of learning in front of him,” Belichick said. “I know he’s very anxious to get going on it and get started. We’ll start trying to give him material to work on.”

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No detour to Florida for Edelman

Could newly retired Julian Edelman follow in former teammate Rob Gronkowski’s footsteps?

Edelman, whose knee injuries prompted him to call it a career with one season remaining on his contract, was asked about the possibility Thursday night during the NFL’s Draft-A-Thon live stream Thursday night.

Host Deion Sanders and special guest Kevin Hart wanted to know: Does Edelman plan on sitting out this year only to come out of retirement and join his former teammate Tom Brady in Tampa Bay?

According to Edelman, the answer is no.

“I am done,” he said. “I’m taking my talents to Viacom.”

After 12 years in the NFL, Edelman already has his next step lined up. He recently shared that his production company, Coast Productions, struck a deal with ViacomCBS. As part of that arrangement, Edelman will have a spot as an analyst on the show, “Inside The NFL.”

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Gronkowski, too, became a football analyst during his lone season off, before ultimately ending his brief tenure at Fox to reunite with Brady on the Buccaneers. The pair ended up winning another Super Bowl together, and now Gronkowski has re-signed for an additional season.

And if you ask Brady, Edelman could be on a similar path.

“We know Julian didn’t retire,” Brady said, with a smile. “Let’s be honest. He’s just too scared to tell Bill he wanted to come to Tampa. I’ve been there.”

The light-hearted conversation elicited laughs from both Edelman and Brady, who were participating in the virtual event to raise money for pandemic recovery efforts.

Trip of a lifetime

The Patriots sent 12 fans to Cleveland for a VIP draft experience. The selected fans, 10 from New England and two from an Ohio booster club, were vaccinated and work in the healthcare industry. The VIP trip included flight, hotel, a private driver from the airport, and seating close to the stage on Thursday night.

Rainy day

The Cleveland weather didn’t cooperate on Thursday, with a steady rain and chilly temperatures putting a bit of a damper on the festivities. But NFL officials still expected about 50,000 fans to attend the draft per day, spaced out across several outdoor venues along Lake Erie.

The fan viewing area also included a “vaccinated fan zone” for several thousand fans. The NFL said the goal was to encourage vaccine use.

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Ben Volin contributed to this report from Cleveland.


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.