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Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with quarterback Mac Jones (10) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick remains full of surprises. But maybe it’s our own fault that this one was surprising in the first place.

After a summer of deferring to veteran Cam Newton, granting him first reps in training camp drills and starting him in all three preseason games, Belichick pulled the rug out from under virtually everyone in New England with his decision to release Newton and name rookie Mac Jones the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Belichick has always valued experience in lieu of rushing young players, and a strong veteran middle class has bolstered his roster for years, which made the decision so stunning at first.

But Belichick also values value. And with Jones, he went with the younger, cheaper option. He also happens to be better at throwing the football.

Reports indicate that a “combination” of factors led to Newton’s release, among them his recent issues with the COVID-19 protocol and an “uninspiring” summer. But it could’ve been as simple as Jones playing better, despite never playing an NFL game.

The 2021 Patriots’ offense was going to go through ups and downs regardless of who played quarterback. Now that Jones is the guy, Belichick is more willing to live with rookie mistakes than that of an 11-year veteran who still had issues with accuracy and decision-making. Jones has proven to be precocious, showing an advanced ability to play the position for his age. So he’s now the first Patriots rookie QB to start Week 1 since Drew Bledsoe.

Belichick also rewarded availability, which he often says is more important than ability. Belichick may have put up with Newton being unvaccinated if he were in the building every day. Instead, he made himself unavailable due to COVID for the second straight season. If Newton can’t be relied upon to stay within the protocol, how can he be relied upon to lead the team on the field?

Experience and positive energy can only take you so far. Belichick spent a year and a half supporting Newton publicly, essentially guaranteeing him the starting job throughout the 2020 season, and declaring him the starter as recently as a few days into training camp. He even seemed to soften the reaction to Newton’s COVID protocol mishap, which the team termed a “misunderstanding.”

But ultimately, Newton wasn’t available during one of the most important weeks of the preseason. Jones was, and had his best day of camp during that time.

When you’re not the best option in terms of ability or availability, where’s the benefit in riding it out with you? Especially when you can no longer be trusted to literally be there for your team? Giving Jones more time to develop? That’s a reasonable explanation, but not when the team would be one more snafu away from having to thrust Jones into the starting role unexpectedly.

This way, Jones and the rest of the team know what to expect. The rookie’s available, and it looks like he can play at this level, too. It’s not ideal to thrust him into the fire in Week 1, and have him under center when Tom Brady and the Buccaneers come to town in Week 4. But it’s the right thing to do.

So perhaps Belichick’s decision, as shocking as it was on the surface, was easier than it ever seemed.

MORE: What Led To Cam Newton’s Release

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.