The New England Patriots spent their offseason trying to fix an offense that was very much broken in 2022.
They hired a new offensive coordinator (Bill O’Brien) and line coach (Adrian Klemm), and also acquired several starter-caliber players through free agency (WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, TE Mike Gesicki, OT Riley Reiff). The attention now turns to the quarterback position, and the question of who will man the starting spot next season.
Even though head coach Bill Belichick has not made any public commitments, former first-round draft pick Mac Jones is the favorite: he has started each of his 32 games over the last two seasons, and played some encouraging football both years.
Belichick not openly guaranteeing Jones’ starting spot at the NFL owners meetings last week, however, has created quite a bit of speculation about the young passer’s future in New England. The latest rumor about Jones comes courtesy of Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio: per his sources, Jones was made available for trade this offseason.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Belichick has shopped Jones to multiple teams during the 2023 offseason.
The full list of potential destinations isn’t known. The teams mentioned as potential destinations were the Raiders, Texans, Buccaneers, and Commanders.
There is a lot to unpack in those 41 words.
Let’s start with the obvious: Jones reportedly being available for trade. This comes amidst rumors about Patriots head coach/general manager Bill Belichick being unhappy with Jones’ demeanor during the 2022 season; the quarterback was apparently seeking outside counsel to help get the moribund offense back on track — a sign of disloyalty that Belichick seemingly was, and still is, not happy about.
Connecting the dots between these rumors and Jones possibly being on the trade block comes only natural. That being said, New England shipping away its starting quarterback out of spite would run counter to the “doing what it takes to improve the team” mantra the Belichick-led Patriots have operated under for the past two-plus decades.
Jones, lest we forget, played some very promising football in Year 1 under a “real” offensive coordinator. That does not make Year 2 under Matt Patricia and Joe Judge a full-on mulligan, but it does put things in perspective a bit.
The situation would be a different one if Belichick and the Patriots were confident that Jones would not be able to return to his 2021 levels of play, when he had one of the better rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory. However, that does not appear to be the case.
Take the following report by one of the most reputable members of the Patriots beat, ESPN’s Mike Reiss:
Closer to reality, according to team sources, is this QB mindset: The Patriots are committed to seeing if Jones — who Belichick recently said has the skills to play in the NFL — can get back on track and realize the potential they identified in making him the 15th overall pick of the 2021 draft.
While they aim to put more support around Jones than they did in 2022, Belichick & Co. also want to see him step up as a leader. And they like the idea of Zappe — who was seeing an increase in practice reps by the end of last season — pushing him.
That does not per se mean the Patriots wouldn’t make Jones available for trade — almost every player can be had if the price is right. New England trying to find out its quarterback’s value with two years (plus the fifth-year option) left on his rookie deal could therefore be classified under “due diligence.”
Of course, there are other scenarios as well — from the Patriots trying to put more pressure on Jones through leaking this information, to the “shopping” part simply being misrepresented.
In the grand scheme of things, however, the route mentioned by Mike Reiss would make the most sense for 2023 given the Patriots’ moves this offseason. In addition, team owner Robert Kraft came out in support of Mac Jones at the owners meetings.
“I’m a big fan of Mac,” he said. “He came to us as a rookie. He quarterbacked his rookie season and did a very fine job, I thought. We made the playoffs. I think we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn’t work when it came to him, in my opinion. We made changes that I think put him in a good position to excel.”
Kraft is taking a hands-off approach when it comes to running the football operations; he is paying Belichick top dollar to do that. Nonetheless, a move as big as this one would likely still not happen without the two men at least conversing — similar to the Jimmy Garoppolo trade back in 2017 (which, contrary to popular belief, did not happen at Kraft’s behest) — and the club owner being informed.
The situation might have unexpectedly changed over the last week, and with rumors heating up on Tuesday. So far, however, they are just that and Jones still QB1 on the Patriots’ depth chart.