The New England Patriots shockingly released veteran quarterback Cam Newton on Tuesday’s cutdown day, paving the way for rookie Mac Jones to be the starter. There were rumblings that Newton being unvaccinated played a role in his release after he missed some practice time due to a COVID-19 issue.

However, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick plainly shut that notion down on Wednesday:

Of course, Belichick was never going to actually admit this even if it did play a role (also, the latter part of his answer was weird). Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer is already in some trouble for admitting his team took vaccination status into account when making final roster decisions, and Belichick infamously never gives anything away.

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Whatever Belichick says, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Newton’s recent COVID-19 snafu and unvaccinated status played some role, but perhaps not the primary role. Jones legitimately played well and earned the job, so he deserves the credit for that. And, once Newton lost the starting gig, perhaps the Patriots wanted to do right by him and give him an opportunity to sign somewhere else to start, though there aren’t all that many options out there for him at this point to do that.

When it comes down to it, being vaccinated does offer up a competitive advantage due to the different rules for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated players. Keeping an unvaccinated Newton around as a backup could have had an impact on other roster decisions, so that could have helped push him off the team.

But what’s done is done. It’s already Mac Jones’ time to shine, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he responds to being QB1. He’s going to face former college teammate Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1, so that should be a lot of fun.