Bill Belichick is one of the least predictable head coaches in NFL history. But while it is near-impossible to guess what he will do on the field, his interactions with the media mostly go as planned; Belichick has some standard answers he will use to shoot down questions.
One of his most popular is the old “going to do what’s best for the team.” In the past, he has used it when questioned about play calls or personnel decisions as a “get out of media jail free” card of sorts.
There is a relatively high chance that he would employ it again if asked when he will name the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback for the 2021 season.
Belichick has repeatedly confirmed Cam Newton a his team’s quarterback, but he also predicted a “hard decision” when it comes to the most important position on the field. He also has not yet named a starter, as Newton himself said earlier this week. The incumbent and first-round rookie Mac Jones will therefore continue to battle for quarterback supremacy with two weeks to go in training camp and preseason.
While that competition is ongoing, when can we expect Belichick to name a starter? Obviously, as noted above, there is no predicting what he is going to do. However, past precedent gives us some historical context for a potential timeline. We don’t even have to look too far back.
Just last season, with Tom Brady having left the organization after two decades as the undisputed QB1, Belichick was faced with a similar decision. It is not known when he made the call, but he informed his team on the morning of September 3rd — 10 days before the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
At that point in the process, all signs were pointed towards Newton already. Despite only having arrived in New England in July, he had looked better than Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer in training camp. He did not have any preseason games and was forced to learn the offense on the fly, but it was obvious that Belichick felt as if Newton was the option that was best for his team heading into a challenging season.
If we adopt this timeline for the 2021 quarterback competition as well, Belichick would name this year’s starter on September 2nd. The Patriots will be playing their first regular season game of the year 10 days later, again versus Miami.
While the situations are not fully comparable as far as the calendar is concerned — roster cutdown day came after the announcement last year; it will be on August 31st this year — Belichick operating in a similar time frame would not be a surprise. He has to name a starter at one point, with his team moving its focus from training camp preparation to in-season preparation. Knowing who the starter is at that point is crucial.
Obviously, though, we could have a similar situation on our hands as last year. As was said, Newton had distanced himself from his competition before being named the starter. So far this season, that has not been the case but he did start the preseason opener against the Washington Football Team and also continues to be the first man up in virtually all practice drills.
From that perspective, Newton is being treated as if he is the starter at this point in time. Of course, performance will ultimately decide who earns the job. And he has not been able to significantly separate himself from Jones so far.
Maybe this changes over the coming weeks, and with the practice focus shifting more towards in-game preparation instead of fundamental work. And based on his experience, Newton should still be considered the frontrunner to earn the starting role when all is said and done.
However, we will not know for sure until further down the line. And September 2nd certainly appears to be a date to circle on the calendar.