FOXBOROUGH — Patriots coach Bill Belichick expects quarterback Cam Newton to return to practice Thursday, but he didn’t have much else to say about the fact that Newton will miss three sessions because of a COVID-related issue.
Newton left the New England area for a team-approved medical appointment Saturday, and, as a result, is subject to the NFL’s five-day entry cadence process. According to league protocols, any player who is not vaccinated must follow that five-day process if he misses a day of testing.
The Patriots said via a statement that Newton has tested negative daily, but there was “a misunderstanding” about tests conducted away from NFL facilities.
So, does a player’s vaccination status become a factor in the team’s decision-making?
“The league rules are the league rules,” Belichick said Tuesday morning. “We’ll be compliant with them. Whatever they are, they are.”
When a reporter raised the potential problem that unvaccinated players may suddenly have their availability affected, Belichick referred to the 2020 season. The Patriots last year experienced multiple COVID-related absences, including Newton during Week 4.
“This is similar to what it was last year, so we dealt with it last year,” Belichick said.
When the reporter pointed out that there was no vaccine at the time, Belichick didn’t have anything to add to his answer.
“I understand,” Belichick said. “I’m talking about the rules.”
If Newton were vaccinated, he would not have to wait five days before returning to action. He missed team sessions Monday and Tuesday, and will miss the first of two joint practices with the Giants Wednesday. When the reporter spelled out that Newton’s absence could have been prevented, Belichick still showed no interest in discussing the matter.
“Look, every team is dealing with the same situation,” he said.
Only the Atlanta Falcons have announced a 100 percent vaccination rate among players.
Does Belichick feel the Patriots are at a competitive disadvantage with an unvaccinated quarterback?
“Every team’s got the same situation,” he said.
Not every team, though, has an unvaccinated quarterback.
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers), Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington Football Team), and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) are all among those who are vaccinated.
Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) hosted an hourlong special on NBC to encourage people to get vaccinated. Sam Darnold (Carolina Panthers) recently got vaccinated after initially expressing hesitation. Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans) said in July he got the vaccine only because of the NFL’s protocols.
But Belichick did not want to discuss Newton’s situation. He did acknowledge that this week is a good opportunity for rookie Mac Jones, who will garner more reps with the presumed starters.
When asked earlier in August if he was vaccinated, Jones declined to say, noting that the decision is a “personal choice.”
“We’re all just trying to make the right decision to keep everyone protected,” Jones said. “And we all want to play. So, it’s kind of a personal thing. I think a lot of guys on our team are, and that’s a good thing. And we’re going to keep moving forward.”
As for the status of New England’s quarterback competition?
“We’ll evaluate everything like we always do, based on the information that we have,” Belichick said.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.