Now that the preseason is over, here are my key takeaways as we approach cutdown day and the start of the 2021 NFL regular season:
Patriots cut Cam Newton, handing Mac Jones the keys to the franchise
Given Bill Belichick’s track record, Cam Newton’s release should not be a surprise. He will always go by what he sees, and the best players will play. Mac Jones simply outperformed Newton. The Alabama QB impressed in the preseason; his 92.2 PFF grade is third among all quarterbacks behind only C.J. Beathard and Jameis Winston. Newton, on the other hand, earned a PFF grade of 79.6 in the preseason (albeit an improvement from his 70.9 grade last season).
You can make the argument that they should have kept Newton as the backup. I’m sure that’s something they considered. It could also be related to Newton’s vaccine status and that the Patriots dealt with COVID issues last season. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see where Newton lands, as I still think he’s a viable backup. Possible landing spots for Newton include Dallas and Atlanta, as both teams do not have effective backup QBs on their rosters (Dallas kept Cooper Rush as their backup). Another possibility is Newton reuniting with head coach Ron Rivera in Washington.
On opening day, we now have Tua Tagovailoa vs. Mac Jones—former Alabama teammates and now it’s Miami vs. New England. It should be a great matchup of young QBs.
National debut on the road against last year’s No. 1 defense could be a factor in the Bears decision making
Barring a surprising change, Andy Dalton will start for the Bears in Week 1 against the Rams on Sunday Night Football. Dalton has not had a strong preseason, amassing a PFF grade of 50.0 in his two preseason games. He was then held out of the Bears’ preseason finale. In contrast, rookie QB Justin Fields has earned a PFF grade 67.6 in three preseason games. Plus, he’s displayed athleticism and speed that could be paramount, given the Bears’ offensive line. Even so, Dalton remains the expected starter, which raises the question: Are the Bears concerned about their rookie QB starting his career against Aaron Donald and last season’s top defense?
Different approaches with QB playing time
As usual, teams took completely different approaches with QB playing time in the preseason, but I thought Daniel Jones in particular could have used more work. He only played in the final preseason game and struggled behind an offensive line that was dominated by New England’s revamped front seven (he finished 17 of 22, 135 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).
Sam Darnold and Jameis Winston both stood out as QBs in new places that benefitted from playing in the preseason. Both QBs will be another case study on how much scheme and coaching can improve QB play. Both looked poised for improved seasons under Joe Brady and Sean Payton, respectively.
Gardner Minshew II trade
Once again, Howie Roseman and the Eagles emphasize the value of having a strong backup QB. I was surprised that Jacksonville could not get more than a 2022 sixth-round pick for Minshew, who has a 37-11 TD/INT ratio. It’s head-scratching that he took away reps from Trevor Lawrence in the preseason when the Jaguars knew they were going to trade him.
In terms of a football trade, it was a good deal for the Eagles, who acquired a solid backup QB on an inexpensive contract. It actually cost them less than what the Vikings gave up for Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik in 2019 (that was a fifth-round pick).
A potential Zach Ertz trade
The Eagles may decide to keep Ertz in order to utilize 12 personnel with Dallas Goedert. But if they look to trade him, two NFC teams immediately come to mind: New Orleans and Minnesota. The Saints TE room has been hit hard by injuries with questions surrounding both presumptive starter Adam Trautman and backup Nick Vannett. This could leave Juwan Johnson—a former WR who has been converted to TE—as their best option at the position. Though it looks like Trautman may have avoided a severe injury, the Saints offensive weapons are unproven and somewhat depleted. Ertz would immediately provide a reliable veteran option. As for Minnesota, their projected starting TE Irv Smith Jr. will undergo surgery to repair a meniscus injury he suffered in Minnesota’s final preseason game against the Chiefs. He will miss at least the beginning of the season, which gives the Vikings a clear incentive to trade for Ertz.
UPDATE: Ertz has stated that he wants to stay in Philly and “retire with the franchise”. Likewise, with Chris Herndon being traded to the Vikings, they would likely be out of the running for another TE.
Grant Reiter contributed to this story