Couch: Cam Newton’s NFL career is in jeopardy because he refused the vaccine?

If Cam Newton wanted to dab, he needed the jab.

Why did one of the all-time great quarterback talents and a former MVP find himself coldly dumped from the New England Patriots, and probably the league, in his prime just two days after promoting himself as QB1?

Here is my theory: Newton's career crashed and burned because he wouldn't get the COVID shot. Patriots coach Bill Belichick denied that on Wednesday, saying the vaccine wasn't a factor.

The evidence and timing suggest otherwise.

Players' vaccination status became a growing issue in the league as teams looked to make their final cuts. Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer said he did take players' status into consideration when making final cuts. He said that's because of the league's tougher protocols on unvaccinated players. The players' association told ESPN that Meyer's comments would lead to an investigation.

Belichick said that wasn't a factor in cutting Newton.

"No. Look, you guys keep talking about that. I would just point out that I don't know what the number is — you guys can look it up, you have the access to a lot of information — but the number of players, coaches, and staff members that have been infected by COVID in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number. So I wouldn't lose sight of that."

Still, Newton's COVID misunderstanding, as the team put it when he botched a testing protocol and had to sit out five days, showed his lack of attention to detail. Belichick talks about putting team ahead of self-interest.

Newton didn't get the shot, and he's out. Rookie Mac Jones did, and he's the starter. That's no coincidence. A political statement from Belichick? No, it's a reliability demand.

The NFL is trying to bully players into getting the shot. Unable to get a mandate past the players' association, the league has put in protocols with big incentives and consequences. The NFL is making the unvaccinated feel like the great unwashed.

Meanwhile, around the league, players and coaches are out of commission and on the COVID list. It is disruptive to the mission of winning football games. If anything, Belichick stays focused only on that one thing.

The Tennessee Titans are without coach Mike Vrabel, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. So is Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz. Several Buffalo Bills are out. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson has had COVID twice, and the Ravens' whole season could come crashing down if he gets it again at the wrong time.

Newton has proved that he is a high risk, particularly at starting quarterback. Belichick likes to limit risks.

And so will other coaches, which is why it's hard to see why anyone else would take a chance on Newton. Quarterbacks looking for jobs during the season are going to need the vaccine on their resumes.

It is possible that Newton wanted out after Belichick told him Jones would be the starter. When Newton played for Tennessee, he once also opted out rather than being considered for a backup job. If that's the stance he's taking now — starter or nothing — then he is finished in the NFL.

After Newton was cut, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a longtime NFL journeyman, tweeted: "Bill does what Bill does. Right or wrong, the man is cold blooded and will do what he thinks he has to do. Period. #Patriots."

Former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel responded with his own tweet: "Cold blooded is a understatement!"

Cold-blooded is not an insult in the NFL. Belichick has always relied on it.

In the second preseason game, against Philadelphia, Newton completed 8 of 9 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Talk was about how much he had improved since last year, when he signed a bargain contract and didn't have a camp to learn the system.

After the Philadelphia game, though, that's when Newton created more COVID distractions. The Patriots were calling it a "misunderstanding." Newton was knocked out of practices for nearly a week because he had failed to abide by a COVID protocol requiring unvaccinated players to test daily at the team facility. Newton left the facility for the test.

I think that was the end for Newton. Belichick said at the time that it improved Jones' chance to be the starter. Reports were that Belichick was upset that Newton was so reckless.

Last year, Newton contracted COVID, missed one game, and forced the NFL to move the Patriots' game with the Kansas City Chiefs to Monday night. According to the New York Times, the Patriots traveled in two planes, one for players who had been exposed to Newton and one for players who had not.

Newton is a mess that Belichick doesn't want to have to keep cleaning up.

Belichick still has to prove that he can win without Tom Brady. The team has rebuilt quickly and now has a strong offensive line and run game. It needs a quarterback who won't make mistakes.

Patriots fans already saw Jones, the first-round draft pick, as the next Brady, mostly because he doesn't have the incredible athletic skills that Newton does, but is reliable, consistent, and mistake-free.

No one would describe Newton as sure and steady. He is a large and muscular presence, a carefree personality and an inconsistent and inaccurate thrower.

On Sunday, he completed just 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards. He threw an interception when he failed to notice that linebacker Blake Martinez was covering New England receiver Jakobi Meyers. Newton should have lobbed a pass over Meyers' head and let him go get it.

It's all in the details.

"I'm going to be ready," Jones said, "whenever my time comes up."

If only Newton could have said the same.

Couch: Like Wilt Chamberlain, Cam Newton proves you can be too talented and too quirky for your own good

I have no idea if Cam Newton is distracted by rap music and dancing between throws in warm-ups. That's what former New England Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. It was an interesting idea. Then Zolak was forced to apologize. Media and Twitter mob rule was threatening to cancel him and his Patriots analyst career.

As a tennis coach, I've instructed plenty of players to sing the same song over and over in their heads to crowd out nervous thoughts. People use music in different ways. Newton doesn't look nervous.

It feels like we all will be Scott Zolak soon, searching for an explanation of why Newton is washed up at 32, when he should be entering his prime. He's one of the greatest quarterback talents we've seen, and he reached the mountaintop with an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. Now he's finished as a franchise QB.

Not even Bill Belichick could breathe life into what was once a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.

Belichick should name rookie Mac Jones the starter for the Patriots' season opener Sept. 12 against Miami. According to reports, Newton will open the season as the Patriots' starter. It's a ceremonial position he'll hold for a game or two at best.

This is Belichick's revenge year after he flopped in 2020 while Tom Brady won the Super Bowl for Tampa Bay. Belichick needs a quarterback. On Sunday in the preseason against the New York Giants, Newton completed 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards and an interception. Then Jones, without one bit of Newton's talent, kept completing passes downfield: 17 yards, 21, 19, 27, 30. He completed 10 of 14 for 156 yards and a 131.8 passer rating.

What's wrong with Newton? Zolak had a point worth looking at. Instead, a woke media and Twitter mob won't allow any consideration of criticism of a black quarterback any more. Zolak spoke with knowledge about what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL. No one wanted to hear that because he was talking about a black quarterback and rap music. And surely that could only signify hatred and racism. Not substance.

"I'd turn off the rap music, because I think it's distracting for Cam here," Zolak said Thursday on his show, "The Sports Hub," on WBZ-FM in Boston. "Because in between every throw, he's dancing. He can't help himself, to where Mac (Jones, by contrast) looks like he came to work again.

"Like, he's here to work. And everything's attention to detail."

Zolak's point wasn't about a black quarterback and rap music. It was about focus and concentration. Newton came back after five days away because he wasn't focused enough to get the COVID testing protocols right. Belichick said those five days gave Jones a chance at the starting job.

You'd have thought Newton, with that pressure on him, would have returned with laser focus. That's the job at quarterback: It's about attention to detail.

Newton's problem is that he has spent his life just far too talented to have to burden himself with detail. He was just too talented for his own good. Quarterbacking is about details, and when you have too much talent, sometimes you don't have to pay attention to the details.

Did Peyton Manning really have incredible athletic talent? I thought when he left college that he didn't have a big enough arm and Ryan Leaf was the better pick.

Yes, I was dumb. Leaf quickly flamed out. Meanwhile, Manning starred with the Denver Broncos when he could barely throw a football across a room.

Dan Marino, super athlete? No. He had great talent, but not so great that he could just ignore the fine details required for the job. Tom Brady? Same thing.

You wonder what Newton was like in junior high or high school. I suspect he was so talented that any time he got in trouble during a game, the solution was obvious: Run. No one will tackle you. You're too good.

When you're way better than everyone else around you, it's hard to grow. It's hard to study. If you're not pushed or challenged or put into tough situations without an easy out, how do you learn?

We do see talented quarterbacks who have skill and detail, too: John Elway and Patrick Mahomes come to mind. But maybe Russell Wilson, always criticized for being too small, became a great quarterback for that very reason. Ray Lewis might have been the best linebacker ever in the NFL.

Imagine if he hadn't been just six feet tall. He might have been worse. Because of his physical shortcoming, he had to become a voracious studier of the game. What separated him from others was his preparation.

It's not just in football, either. In baseball, the best managers are backup catchers who had to learn all the nuances and subtleties to survive.

In basketball, Wilt Chamberlain had all the physical tools, so Bill Russell had to be smarter to beat him.

Chamberlain would eat fried chicken before games and hot dogs at halftime. Newton dances in warm-ups, he celebrates after every play. The best quarterbacks tend to be a little dorky, have a little geek in them from the studying.

It's hard to see anyone taking a chance on him again as a starter. If he's willing, there will be backup jobs available to him, with that talent, for years.

Newton could have been so much more. If only he'd been a little less.