You wouldn’t know it because the last 12 months have felt like a decade, but the New England Patriots are entering just the second year of the post-Tom Brady era, and this upcoming season brings as much, if not more, uncertainty than last.
P.B. 1 — or “Post-Brady 1,” for the uncultured — was about as disastrous as a Patriots season could get. The training camp quarterback competition was never competitive, Cam Newton’s season was marred with inconsistency and overzealous expectations, and the hope that Jarrett Stidham or even Brian Hoyer could keep the ship afloat died in Kansas City.
So Belichick and company are back to square one, employing those same three quarterbacks. Luckily for the team, this season has an added wrinkle who goes by the name of Mac Jones. The 15th overall pick is certainly viewed as the future of the position. There is just a big question to be answered: Is the future now?
As the incumbent starter, there are few players in the NFL with more to prove than Newton. Inconsistent mechanics, troublesome decision-making, and at times, just straight up bad play have put him in a make-or-break situation in 2021. Some fans will say he sucks. Others say he wasn’t the problem, mentioning the fact that he entered a franchise in flux in a season where nothing was right. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
What can’t be argued is the off-field impact that Newton brings to New England. His attitude and leadership was praised throughout an especially difficult 2020 season, by his teammates and coaches. His leadership style and ability to run the football were both major components to the Patriots’ limited offensive success and are the keys to Newton’s case to keep the starting job. If one thing is true for Newton in 2021, it’s that his margin for error will be very thin, especially with another former Iron Bowl star breathing down his neck.
After Bill Belichick proved patience is a virtue in April’s draft with the pick of Jones at No. 15, Patriots fans are itching to see the rookie hit the field in 2021. Jones — who is known for his elite pocket presence and ability to win pre-snap — has shined early in rookie minicamp and OTAs this past week. As one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks in the 2021 class and with the improved offense around him, it’s a much better situation for a young quarterback to come in and succeed rather than a year ago. However, from the mouth of Belichick on draft night, this is Newton’s job until further notice.
If Jones can continue to impress his teammates and coaches by grasping the playbook and taking control of the line of scrimmage, he has a real shot to win the job out of camp. However, first-round picks are a huge investment, especially at the quarterback position, so taking their time with him and making sure he is truly ready for game action will be a huge part in the decision of when Jones will get on the field.
Rewind the clocks to a year ago today — Stidham looked like he was going to be the heir apparent and lead the Patriots in “Life after Tom Brady.” However, after the acquisition of Newton in late June and him lacking the ability to separate himself in a shortened training camp, partly due to injury, Stidham found himself buried on New England’s depth chart for the entirety of the 2020 season.
In the limited action that Stidham did see, it became apparent that the team would be taking a different course of action in finding the next franchise guy. Now, 365 days after being viewed as the future, Stidham is now trying to earn a spot on the roster.
May is a tough month for football fans, that was extremely evident when the Patriots signed Hoyer and many spent a week arguing about it. The fact of the matter is, Hoyer is a camp body.
With as competitive a roster as the Patriots have, they had trouble filling the final few spots, and Hoyer was an available option that can fill a specific role in camp. That fact was proven when the team turned around and signed long snapper Wes Farnsworth and running back Tyler Gaffney, they just needed to find people who would sign.
Hoyer, 35, will have one more opportunity to show his worth to the Patriots, possibly in hopes to obtain a coaching job down the road.
Can Cam Newton hold off Mac Jones into the season?
As Belichick said on draft night, “Cam’s our quarterback. Whenever Jarrett or Mac are ready to compete, we’ll see how it goes.” That gives you a glimpse into how the Patriots feel about the quarterback position heading into training camp. Belichick has always done what is best for the team and played players who give them the best chance to win. Right now, Cam has the upper hand due to experience in the league and familiarity with the Patriots’ offense. However, if Jones can show he is ready enough to man the position as a rookie by earning the trust in his teammates and coaches as well as grasping the playbook and controlling the line of scrimmage, he has a real shot to take the job in Week 1.
In terms of the likelihood of this happening, it’s a long shot at this point in time considering what Mac will have to do to win the job as well as taking the time and patience with his development so they don’t put him into a position where he’s not able to succeed.
Who is the odd man out?
Right now, it seems fairly obvious that Hoyer won’t stick around for too long. Making his was back to Foxborough just a few weeks ago, Hoyer was one of the players that signed late and looked like roster-filler. The real question is, will there be more than one man left out? Stidham, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett entered their rookie seasons as the lone backups to Brady. Jacoby Brissett was brought in to essentially back up Garoppolo during Brady’s four-game suspension in 2016. Jones could be the next in line to become the lone backup in his rookie year, even without Brady in front of him.
When will we see Mac Jones?
The important distinction here is “when” and not “will.” Mac Jones will play in 2021 and the question is all about when. The easy answer is a mix between when he’s ready and when he’s needed. If New England get’s off to a hot start with Cam in year two and a revamped offense around him, there is no need to play Jones. If Cam can’t rebound from his down year, Mac will be ready to go. The fact of the matter is, this roster is too good not to be competitive, so Mac will have to wait a while to see the field. Possibly in a late-season matchup with seeding already decided. Week 18 in Miami, anyone?
What does the future look like at the position?
The future looks to be about 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. He’s got a bit of a lanky frame and he’ll probably be wearing No. 10. He also goes by the name of Mac Jones.
You don’t draft a quarterback with the 15th overall pick without knowing he’s got what it takes to lead your franchise. The pedigree and trust is there. Jones just needs to run with it.