With the third phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 91 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series kicks continues with rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
Name: Mac Jones
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 50)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 + 5th-year option (2025 or 2026 UFA)
What is his experience? Before arriving in the NFL as a first-round draft pick by the Patriots in late April, Jones spent four seasons at the University of Alabama under head coach and Bill Belichick confidante Nick Saban. While he was a highly-touted prospect entering the NFL, his career with the Crimson Tide started slowly: Jones took a redshirt year as a freshman in 2017 and played only sparingly the following season. By 2019, however, he had climbed up the depth chart and was serving as Alabama’s primary backup quarterback.
As such, he was pushed into the starting lineup when Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury in November. Jones never looked back, and developed into one of the most productive passers in all of college football. Over the next one-and-a-half seasons, he started a combined 16 games and completed 75.9 percent of his throws for 5,437 yards, 51 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. His starting opportunities may have been limited early on in his career, but he ran with them when he got the chance.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a strong three-game stint as Alabama’s starting quarterback to end the 2019 season, Jones was locked into the QB1 position as well heading into his 2020 redshirt junior campaign: he was under center for the Crimson Tide when they opened their season against Missouri in late September, with the game already being a sign of things to come. Jones led his team to a 38-19 victory, and went 18-for-24 for 249 yards as well as a pair of touchdowns along the way.
Successfully building on his previous experience in the system, Jones played himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation throughout the season. When all was said and done, he had completed 311 of 402 pass attempts for a success rate of 77.4 percent. He also had gained 4,500 yards through the air, while throwing 41 touchdowns compared to only 3 interceptions. Along the way, he never completed less than 66.7 percent of his pass attempts in any game, and went without a scoring throw in just two of 13 contests.
In a season full of big moments, one still stands out: the National Championship Game against second-ranked Ohio State. Jones brought his A-game to the contest, and finished with an 80 percent completion rate (36 or 45) as well as 464 passing yards and 5 touchdowns — all while playing through a bone bruise suffered in the third quarter. Leading Alabama to a 52-24 victory, he did not just secure the school another title but also capped a perfect season in style.
Jones’ on-field statistics spoke for themselves, but his contributions in the locker room also cannot go unnoticed. He was voted a team captain heading into the season, and was repeatedly praised by both his teammates and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian for his ability to rally the troops and lead Alabama’s offense.
Jones’ 2020 campaign also earned him numerous accolades — Consensus All-American, first-team All-SEC, Davey O’Brien Award — as well as consideration as a first-round draft pick. He eventually skipped his fifth season in Tuscaloosa to instead take his talents to the NFL. While seen as a difficult evaluation due to the fact that he had played in a near-perfect situation in terms of supporting cast both on and off the field, he still was regarded as a top-five passer and eventually heard his name called 15th overall by New England.
What is his projected role? There is no doubt that Jones will be on the Patriots’ active roster come September based on his draft status alone, but his eventual role has yet to be determined. He has the upside to take over as the starter, and is New England’s future at the quarterback position, but his lack of experience might point towards him taking a de facto redshirt season: with the incumbent, Cam Newton, re-signed before free agency, the Patriots could afford to install Jones as their second or third QB and have him learn before taking over the offense either late in 2021 or in 2022.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with every other quarterback, Jones’ special teams value is almost non-existent. That being said, he does bring some experience in the game’s third phase to the table: the Crimson Tide used him as a holder on field goal and extra point kicks from time to time. While that job is in the safe hands of punter Jake Bailey in New England, Jones could get some practice and preseason looks in the department.
Does he have positional versatility? Whereas Cam Newton is one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL, Mac Jones is more of a classic pocket passer. As such, his versatility is limited: he is virtually no threat to advance the football with his feet, and also does not have the athletic makeup to serve as a receiver on trick plays. His skills lie in the pocket, and he will be used accordingly.
What is his salary cap situation? Even though Jones has not yet officially signed his standard four-year contract with the Patriots, we already know the basic outline of his deal thanks to the NFL’s rookie wage scale: he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of $2.83 million this year. The general expectation is that his entire deal will be guaranteed, meaning that the Patriots would lose cap space in every cut scenario. New England will also have the fifth-year option available to keep Jones from the open market in 2025.
What is his roster outlook? As noted above, Jones is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this year. His standing on the depth chart, however, will be dependent on his performance in training camp relative to that of the other three passers under contract (Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer). Realistically, the youngster should not be expected to leapfrog all three of them on the depth chart, but if he performs well in practice he should get his fair share of in-game opportunities nonetheless — possibly also positioning himself to take over in case Newton again struggles as New England’s starter.