It’s been 121 days since the New England Patriots spent the 15h overall pick in April’s draft on Mac Jones. On that night, Bill Belichick reiterated what he had said for the past six months: “Cam’s our quarterback.”
Although that was the case then, things have drastically changed over the last four months. While many believed Jones was the most “pro-ready” quarterback the Patriots had available in the draft, it was believed that he would see a redshirt year as the team had brought Cam Newton back on another discounted, one-year contract which gave them the flexibility to wait and develop their five-year investment with Jones.
At the time, it seemed like the best situation for both Jones and the organization.
The Patriots had a pretty good situation on their hands back in April. They were fresh off spending a whopping $159.6 million via free agency, adding key pieces to the offense and defense while walking away with what is to believe a strong 2021 draft class. It would help improve Newton, who threw for just 2,657 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, while Jones would sit, learn and developed to be ready to take the keys in 2022.
However, over the last four months, everything has changed. With the media availability for practice in 2021 now closed, the rookie has made a strong case for the team to give him the nod to start the season.
Although Belichick has kept it brief when speaking publicly about the rookie, Jones has caught the eyes of team captains Matthew Slater and Dont’a Hightower who both praised his preparation and work ethic. Not only did he blossom on the field, but his hard work in the film room and picking things up abnormally faster than any rookie quarterback that’s been here has caught the eyes of anybody that’s gotten a chance to watch him.
For anyone that has been down at practice since the start of camp, they’d all tell you that both quarterbacks have looked good — especially Newton, who seemingly looks more comfortable and healthier than he did last year throwing the football. However, Jones has been the better and more consistent quarterback, seemingly making this competition a lot closer than anyone may have thought.
Although he’s said otherwise publicly, there’s no question the rookie wants the nod Week 1. He’s spending up to 18 hours per day at the facility, leaning on veterans with questions day-to-day and preparing for each practice like he would for any Sunday.
Sure, there will likely be growing spurts with Jones. It’s hard for any rookie to step into the league and find consistent success — let alone at quarterback — but his ability to improve day to day, drive to drive and rep to rep, has undoubtedly stood out throughout camp.
Newton started out camp as the clear-cut starter, he looked sharper, more in-control, and ultimately looked like he should be the guy. But Jones has shown improvement each day and is consistently tweaking things on a rep-to-rep basis until he got it right. He’s caught up with Newton and seemingly starting to run away with the job.
Factor in Newton’s vaccination status and that he is likely going to have to battle adversity just to stay on the field consistently, it would be a no-brainer to go with Jones from the get-go.
It was clear in Wednesday’s session, Jones knew just as much as anyone else that he needed to have a big day. He lit up the Giants’ 11th ranked defense, completing 33 of his 39 passes while taking every single competitive rep of the Patriots 2.5-hour session. He was animated, in control and showed he had command of the offense while Newton wasn’t present.
Jones’ consistent reps with the team's top unit gave a glimpse into how efficient the Patriots can operate with him under center. He consistently made the right reads, checks and gained the utmost trust of his teammates.
Newton, meanwhile, has been an unbelievable teammate and leader for the Patriots from the moment he stepped foot in New England. While opinions on his play are indifferent, there is a case to be made that the Patriots will have more success with Mac Jones under center — even as early as 2021.
The Patriots pride themselves on playing their best football down the stretch. In just about every Super Bowl run they’ve had, they have hit a bump in the road early on in the season. That could be the case with Jones, who will likely show his rookie moments at some point in the season. However, from everything we have seen from him, he seemingly gets better as the weeks pile up.
Wouldn’t that be a better scenario for the Patriots rather than throwing him into the fire mid-season when they could be battling for a playoff spot? Or keeping him on the bench through the season entirely?
The Patriots’ competition gets tougher and tougher as the weeks go on. Starting Jones right away would allow him to get a handle on things and learn as he goes on so that he and the team can fully hit their stride for the stretch run towards the end of the season.
There is certainly a case to be made for Jones to sit on the bench, though. I’ve been a firm believer in not rushing quarterbacks who are not ready and ultimately ruin their development and future. It worked with numerous amounts of elite QBs around the league today. But, with the Patriots set to have a top offensive line, a running back room that is league-best in terms of depth, and key additions in the passing game, there’s little to be concerned about Jones not being able to find ways to find success early on.
We’ve seen it throughout the preseason and training camp: when the Patriots make a change at quarterback, the offense doesn’t skip a beat.
Bill Belichick and his staff know a lot more about football and personnel decisions than I ever will, but “doing what’s best for the team” is starting the rookie Week 1 and has been clear as day for anyone who has seen training camp from start to finish.