The NFL has its highest profile player to date test positive for the Coronavirus, and it is none other than New England Patriots starting quarterback Cam Newton: the team announced on Saturday that it had a positive test late last night, with reports from NFL insiders naming Newton as the player in question.
The whole situation is still developing at the moment, with the Patriots and the NFL trying to figure out how to handle Newton’s positive test as well as the upcoming road game against the Kansas City Chiefs. With that being said, let’s take an initial look — based on the information available — what this all means for New England.
Patriots-Chiefs will be postponed
With Newton having tested positive, New England’s game against the Chiefs has already been postponed: as the NFL announced shortly after first reports broke, the highly anticipated contest is now expected to be played either on Monday or Tuesday. The latter seems more likely at the moment, but the decision will be made based on subsequent testing and whether or not Covid-19 will start to spread within the organization like it did in Tennessee.
The Titans had their first positive tests late on Monday, and have had multiple days with new players getting diagnosed to have contracted the Coronavirus. So far, at least 16 people — eight players and eight staff members — have tested positive. The Patriots and the NFL will obviously hope that a similar development will not take place in New England and Kansas City, where practice squad QB Jordan Ta’amu also tested positive. Obviously, however, nothing is guaranteed.
Players and staff will be watched closely over the next few hours
While no other members of the Patriots organization have tested positive so far, what is going on in Tennessee shows us that statuses can change quickly. Needless to say that all of New England — the players, coaches and other staff members — will be watched closely over the next few hours and days. Any new developments could impact whether or not the team really travels to Kansas City to play the game on Tuesday.
New England’s quarterback depth chart comes into focus...
Before anything else, it is imperative that the Patriots’ players and staff are kept safe in this unclear situation, and that Newton will be given all the care and monitoring needed to make a full recovery. That all being said, there is a chance that New England will have to play a game next week regardless of today’s news — and if that is the case a new quarterback will line up under center in place of the impeded starter.
That quarterback will likely be veteran Brian Hoyer: he has served as the Patriots’ number two ever since the start of the regular season, with second-year man Jarrett Stidham inactive each of the three games. How much the groin injury he suffered in training camp contributed to this status is unknown at this point, but the matter of fact is that he remains behind Hoyer on the depth chart at the moment.
New England also has a fourth quarterback under contract, although it seems unlikely he will get promoted to the 53-man roster unless Stidham’s injury status is something to worry about: Jake Dolegala was signed to the practice squad last month after having served as the Cincinnati Bengals’ third quarterback during his 2019 rookie season.
...as the offense will have to adapt to life without QB1
With Cam Newton having tested positive for Covid-19, the central piece of the Patriots’ offense will be out for the immediate future. This means that the unit as a whole will have to adapt to a new situation. What could it look like, therefore? Let’s turn to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for a potential answer.
Last summer, McDaniels said that the offense’s identity should always reflect the personnel. Keeping that in mind, one should expect the Patriots to attack defenses just like they did when Newton was still under center: focus on running the football with a deep backfield and behind one of the best offensive line’s in the entire NFL. Sure, Hoyer is no threat to advance the football as a runner, but the team’s core principles will likely stay the same even with him under center.
Furthermore, the team’s core principles have not changed even with Newton taking over for long-time starter Tom Brady this year: the terminology and the core concepts are still the same, and Hoyer has plenty of experience with them stemming from his two previous stints as Brady’s backup (2009-11, 2017-18).