FOXBOROUGH — Mac Jones’s time is now.
The Patriots pulled off the biggest shock of cutdown day when they released Cam Newton and named Jones their starting quarterback Tuesday morning, according to a league source.
“I’m going to be ready whenever my time comes,” Jones said after Sunday’s preseason win over the Giants, the third straight game in which the rookie first-round pick came on in relief of Newton, who started 15 games for New England last season.
Despite being second in the snaps rotation throughout training camp, Jones proved he was ready to thrive in Josh McDaniels’s offense, traditionally one of the toughest for newcomers to digest.
Additionally, the club released quarterback Brian Hoyer, though the veteran likely will be back as early as Wednesday to continue to serve as a backup and mentor to Jones.
Newton, who re-signed with the Patriots in March for a guaranteed $3.5 million, took to social media shortly after his release to acknowledge his fans.
“I really appreciate all the love and support during this time but I must say … Please don’t feel sorry for me!! I’m good,” the former league MVP posted on Instagram.
Newton was often lauded by coach Bill Belichick for his professionalism, work ethic, and leadership, while teammates gushed about the energy he brought on a daily basis.
He was always accountable even during the low points of a 2020 season that included an early bout with COVID-19 that he acknowledged affected him throughout the 7-9 campaign.
Jones, the 15th overall pick in April after he helped lead Alabama to the national championship, demonstrated poise, precision, and the ability to rebound from bad passes, series, and practices.
“You can tell he had what it takes from the first practice with him,’’ veteran running back James White said Tuesday. “He’s constantly learning. Constantly trying to improve. He’s tough on himself, but I think he has high expectations for himself.”
Watching Jones operate this summer, he looked like a perfect fit for McDaniels’s offense, which requires quick thinking, a quick trigger, and superb accuracy. His ability to calmly run the two-minute offense during the preseason was particularly impressive.
Jones consistently improved throughout camp and coaches and teammates raved about his study habits away from the field and his command on it.
“When he comes into the huddle, he wants to control the huddle and make sure everybody that’s in there with him believes in him,” said White. “He’s building that confidence each and every day. Trying to improve each and every day. Because there’s a lot of stuff a quarterback has to do. He’s constantly in the film room. Constantly asking questions, trying to find ways to improve.”
Jones capped an impressive final week of camp by completing 10 of 14 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown against the Giants after he carved up New York’s defense during the first of two joint practices.
It was during that Wednesday session, the final one Newton missed as he waited out a five-day reentry cadence because of a misunderstanding regarding daily COVID-19 testing, where Jones sparkled, working behind the first-team offensive line and with the starting skill-position players.
“Mac’s done a great job,” said center David Andrews. “He’s come in and worked really hard. He’s obviously done a lot of really good things, like a lot of players this preseason. He’s done a good job being vocal at times, making mistakes, and keeps moving forward, that’s part of it.”
Jones said on Sunday he appreciated the camaraderie among the quarterbacks and that he tried to absorb as much as he could from all resources.
“There’s no bad business in our quarterback room. We’re all trying to help each other,” he said. “And obviously I played in college last year and I’ve never played in the NFL. So, I’m here to learn from Josh, from Cam, from Hoyer, from everybody. They’ve seen a lot of football, whether they played or was a backup, they’ve seen a lot of NFL football, and they’ve been a great help to me.”
The decision to go with Jones sets up an interesting Week 1 matchup on Sept. 12 as Jones will oppose Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom he succeeded in Tuscaloosa.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who spent time with Jones at the Senior Bowl, reminded reporters in Miami on Tuesday that the opener isn’t Mac vs. Tua.
“I have a great deal of respect for Mac Jones. If he has earned the respect of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, then he has my respect,’’ he said.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.