Belichick: Cam’s vax status no factor in release

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Cam Newton’s vaccination status wasn’t a factor in the team’s decision to release him.

“No. Look, you guys keep talking about that,” Belichick told reporters Wednesday morning.

“I would just point out that I don’t know what the number is, but the number of players, coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp — who have been vaccinated — is a pretty high number. So I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”

The NFL previously announced that 68 players and staff tested positive for COVID-19 out of 7,190 tested individuals during a three-week stretch from Aug. 1-21. The rate of positive tests among unvaccinated NFL personnel was seven times higher than the rate of positive tests among vaccinated personnel, according to the league.

Newton was away from the Patriots for five days last week due to what the team called a COVID-19 protocol “misunderstanding.” He missed three practices over that stretch, which allowed rookie Mac Jones to take control of the team.

The Patriots had disclosed that Newton had undergone daily testing at the time, all of which were negative. According to NFL-NFLPA protocols, Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals — including all players — are exempt from daily testing if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Newton had never confirmed his vaccination status, saying it was personal.

On Tuesday, Jaguars coach Urban Meyer said he and general manager Trent Baalke took a player’s vaccination status into consideration during final roster cuts.

Meyer said that it was considered because of the more stringent COVID-19 protocols imposed on unvaccinated players who test positive or are identified as high-risk close contacts as compared with the protocols for vaccinated players.

Meyer’s comments did not go over well with the NFL Players Association. George Atallah, the assistant executive director for external affairs for the NFLPA, told ESPN via email that Meyer’s statements “have led us to open an investigation.”

Of the decision to go with Jones over Newton, Belichick called it a “very competitive situation.”

“Both players took pretty close to an equal number of repetitions in total between practice, games, going all the way back to the spring,” he said.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a player. A tremendous amount of respect for him as a human being,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I think he did everything he could that we asked him to do to try to help us win and help us prepare this year to improve. And for that I’m very grateful and appreciative of all the things he did, all the work he put in.”

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