Mac Jones was too good. The Patriots' decision to release Cam Newton was a surprise primarily because they chose to go from one of the best backup quarterback situations in football to one of the worst. But it's impossible to deny Jones earned the starting job. He was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded passer this preseason among QBs with more than 40 dropbacks and their highest-graded rookie quarterback since they started tracking preseasons in 2013. By most accounts, Jones was better in practices, too. It doesn't take Bill Belichick to see the next-level traits Jones showed with his uncanny accuracy, excellent footwork and decision making.
Perhaps Belichick was wary of Newton's vaccination status or how his strong leadership and support from his teammates would play out as a backup. Perhaps Newton wanted a chance to catch on elsewhere like Dallas and Belichick gave it to him. Either way, New England is now one snap away from Hoyer playing. (Hoyer is reportedly expected to be re-signed after also being cut Tuesday in a procedural move.) The Patriots should be better with Jones leading the team this year, and they have a playoff-ready offensive line and defense. But they are undeniably worse if anything happens to their starting QB now when they were set to have one of the best backups in football.
Here were the other biggest moves on a busy cut-down day:
2) Newton's release might not have even been the most impactful Patriots news of the day. The team placed Stephon Gilmore on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list Tuesday, knocking him out for the first six games of the season.
Gilmore's desire for a new contract has overshadowed his recovery from a torn quad muscle that ranks as one of the worst injuries in the sport. While the Patriots knew they'd have a solid enough quarterback no matter who won that battle, there is no replacement for Gilmore on the roster. Jalen Mills is the team's starting outside cornerback opposite J.C. Jackson until Gilmore is back.Their next outside corner is ... former Raven Shaun Wade, acquired last week. Once the strongest position group on the roster, the cornerbacks could be the weakness of an otherwise-loaded defense.
3) The biggest names on the transaction wire Tuesday were headed to the PUP list. Saints receiver Michael Thomas will miss the first six weeks of the season, leaving Marquez Callaway a long runway to establish himself as the NFL's premier wide receiver. The Saints' offensive line -- which could feature a Year 2 leap by Cesar Ruiz -- is the primary reason to believe Sean Payton can win games without great pass catchers. It's my pick as the best line in football.
4) The third All-Pro on our PUP trilogy is Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari. I'm not particularly worried about Aaron Rodgers' blindside with Elgton Jenkins moving there. I am worried about the rest of the offensive line, which is counting on Matt LaFleur's scheme to compensate for a lack of talent.
5) Bengals fans blamed guard Michael Jordan for Joe Burrow's injury last year, which felt unfair. With that said, consider it a good sign for Cincinnati that it was able to go with a youth movement on the offensive line and release Jordan in the process.
6) Breshad Perriman's release from the Lions guarantees that they'll be looking for help on the waiver wire. It also helps guarantee that Amon-Ra St. Brown will be a factor in his rookie season.
7) Tavon Austin made the initial Jaguars roster over receivers Phillip Dorsett, Pharoh Cooper, Devin Smith and Laquon Treadwell. Those are a lot of familiar names who might be reaching the end of the line.
8) The Vikings will give tight end Chris Herndon a shot after he failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities with the Jets. The trade, first reported by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, gives the Vikings a pass-catching tight end to hold the fort until Irv Smith Jr. gets healthy.
9) Minnesota waived quarterback Jake Browning, which guarantees that rookie Kellen Mond will be Kirk Cousins' backup this year.
10) In a small surprise considering how training camp started, Cooper Rush won the Cowboys backup job over Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci, who were both cut. Cam Newton coming onboard makes too much sense, though.
11) The Bears cut veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant in a surprise move. The team's defense -- especially its young cornerback group -- hasn't received a lot of attention because of Justin Fields' arrival. It's safe to say Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay will be eager to test young starters Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley in Week 1.
12) Josh Rosen's release from the 49ers wound up being a promotion. He made the Falcons roster as Matt Ryan's backup, at least for now.
13) Will Grier is out in Carolina, at least for now. That cements P.J. Walker as Sam Darnold's backup.
14) Benardrick McKinney was traded from the Texans to the Dolphins for Shaq Lawson in a deal of expensive misfires early in the offseason. Neither wound up making their team, with Lawson traded to the Jets and McKinney released.
15) Jordan Howard isn't going to be Miles Sanders' goal-line caddy after all. The veteran was cut, with rookie Kenneth Gainwell earning a major role alongside Sanders and Boston Scott. The bigger surprise in Philadelphia was the decision to waive Travis Fulgham. The Eagles kept J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has never remotely produced like Fulgham did a year ago. Look for Fulgham to find a job elsewhere.
16) The Lions cut both their kickers (Zane Gonzalez and Randy Bullock) so they don't currently have one!
17) Johnny Hekker will stay with the Rams after all. Los Angeles found a taker for punter Corey Bojorquez in a 2023 late-round pick swap with the Packers.
18) Trace McSorley was waived by the Ravens. This isn't a surprise for anyone who watched Tyler Huntley's preseason, but for the rest of you: Tyler Huntley is good! The Ravens will have a chance if Lamar Jackson misses a game or two.
19) Malcolm Butler was placed on the reserve/retired list, one day after NFL Network's Mike Garafolo broke the news that Butler was thinking about leaving the game due to personal issues.
20) The new regime in Houston does not have the same patience with wide receiver Keke Coutee. The 2018 fourth-round pick caught 83 passes in three injury-plagued seasons. The slot receiver ultimately lost his spot on the roster to Anthony Miller, but figures to get another opportunity.
21) John Brown's release from the Raiders answers the question: What veteran free agent was paid the most guaranteed money this offseason without making the team?
Brown was paid $3.24 million guaranteed, but general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden still chose to keep Zay Jones over him. Brown clearly didn't impress at camp, but I'm stunned considering the tape he put up in Buffalo last year.
22) While the NFL world focused on roster construction, the long process of rebuilding one of our greatest cities began again in New Orleans. My heart breaks for everyone impacted by Hurricane Ida and the assessment from Sean Payton that the Saints would plan to be away from the city for the first month of the season couldn't help but bring up painful memories of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Payton arrived the season after, and it appears the team will follow a different playbook this time around. Payton indicated the team is leaning toward staying in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the next month. The Saints have been practicing at the Cowboys' facility this week and could use TCU's or SMU's campus eventually, while playing their games at Payton's close friend Jerry Jones' stadium. The Saints are scheduled to host the Packers in Week 1.
The displacement of the local football team cannot be compared to the real-life tragedies unfolding in Louisiana, but do not underestimate how disappointing it will be for a city that is mad for its football. The only bright side here is imagining how great it will be when the Saints are back playing in the dome, hopefully this season. It's a city that doesn't stay down for long and there's a bond between city and team that is unbreakable.