Today, it doesn’t really matter where we think Mac Jones’ playing career will ultimately put him on the scale of quarterbacking success.
Closer to Kirk Cousins than Colt McCoy? More like Jarrett Stidham than Tom Brady? Better than Jimmy Garoppolo or worse than A.J. McCarron? Don’t matter none. We can start sussing that out in July and can do it until at least 2026.
What matters right now is how the New England Patriots executed their long-overdue plan for replacing Tom Brady. And -- other than the fact it’s been gestating since Halloween 2017 when they traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers -- I don’t know how you can actively hate it.
They let the game come to them in the 2021 NFL Draft. They didn’t move up and fritter away a draft pick. They got their Justin Fields misinformation out there and made enough calls to chum the water with suspicion they were moving up into the top 10. Then they just sat there.
We will find out in due time, but I suspect the Patriots knew exactly who the Chicago Bears were targeting when they traded with the New York Giants to select Justin Fields at No. 11. I mean, Dave Gettleman’s a Mattapan native and Joe Judge was here for a decade. Those informational nuggets are NFL Bitcoins.
You also have to suspect the Bears made their move because they feared the Patriots were going to take Fields based on the week’s scuttlebutt.
Which left them a clear path to Jones.
“One way or another, we have to get that position solidified,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said a few weeks back.
Just drafting Jones doesn’t solidify it. But it’s a more concrete answer to the question than Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling, Stidham and Cam Newton appear to have been. And that’s what the team has thrown at the spot since reluctantly trading Glass Jim.
Who, now that we bring him up, is worth discussing for a moment. Inevitable as Garoppolo’s return seemed to be, when the 49ers drafted Trey Lance at No. 3 and not Jones, the Patriots were delivered from having that headache to deal with. If, and only if, they could get their preferred quarterback in Jones.
With Lance needing seasoning, the Niners have to keep Garoppolo to run a Super Bowl-caliber team for 2021. So the Patriots don’t have to send a pick to San Fran, renegotiate Jimmy’s salary, get him halfway through the summer, put him on the field and then wonder how long before he breaks.
If Jones is as good as Garoppolo -- and I personally think Garoppolo is plenty good enough to win with -- then the Patriots get the same level of play for a lot less money. If he’s worse than Garoppolo, well, at least they weren’t paying him $24M to be bad or not be available.
Late April is better suited for discussing the logic of the pick rather than the quality of the player. For instance, I got the logic of N’Keal Harry. Big. Powerful. Huge catch radius. Mean streak. A wideout replacement for Rob Gronkowski.
Harry hasn’t been good.
I wondered about the logic of Kyle Dugger. Safety? Lenoir-Rhyne? Spot seems staffed and who did Dugger play against?
I’ll be surprised if Dugger isn’t a Pro Bowl player at some point.
But with Jones, you have a player at a clear position of need who demonstrated while playing for Nick Saban that he can take hard coaching and play championship-level football.
For the Patriots, Jones is a tidy fit. At the worst, he’ll keep his hands at 10 and 2 while steering Josh McDaniels’ offense. He doesn’t bring the “He could make something happen…!” threat that a Fields, Lance or Newton would on a third-and-6 when everyone’s covered and protection is crumbling.
But he's also a better bet to hit James White between the 2 and the 8 and not in the shoelaces than Newton proved to be in 2020.
Jones had better receivers last year at Alabama than Newton had in New England. And that’s not hyperbole. Will Cam take the drafting of Jones the way Brady did when the Patriots drafted Garoppolo back in 2014? Are we about to witness a revenge rampage from Newton that ends with three more Lombardis in Foxboro by 2027 and Jones shipped to San Fran to replace Jimmy or Lance?
I’m gonna say no.
When and if it becomes clear that Jones can deliver the ball to Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, etc. more accurately and predictably than Newton, the party will be over for Cam as the starter. And despite Belichick’s attempt to ward off daily questions about the position by peeing on Newton’s territory Thursday night, it’s coming.
Perhaps the best aspect of Newton’s presence is that Jones is succeeding him and not Brady. Newton already took the slings and arrows -- very capably, I might add -- of being the Brady successor. Jones will be replacing a washed-up Newton, not the greatest quarterback of all-time. That’s not unimportant.
But the upshot of Thursday is the Patriots did something at the quarterback position that’s representative of a long-term plan. When the rest of the AFC East's quarterbacks were Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and Sam Darnold (now Zach Wilson) and the Patriots' were Stidham and Newton, it was clear the Patriots weren’t even in the game.
Now they are.