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If Bill Belichick shopped Mac Jones, that’s business as usual

Belichick has never passed up an opportunity to improve his team, for the right price. Why would he stop now?

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New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

To borrow a phrase we’ve probably all said in the past couple years, ironically or otherwise:

Boy, it sure would be nice to live in some precedented times.

We all know the stakes by now; Year 3 is the crucial put-up-or-shut-up year for any quarterback, never mind the one tasked with being the one true heir to Tom Brady’s throne. We joke around all the time about how there’s whole generations of New England Patriots fans who have never know what it’s like to have a losing season, but they are arguably the only franchise this side of the Green Bay Packers who has the longest streak of at least having a franchise QB locked in.

(sorry, Cam, you gave it your best and kept your chin up, and for that we are very grateful, but there’s a reason you’re doing Pro Day at Auburn and still swearing there aren’t 32 quarterbacks better than you when Sam Darnold and Andy Dalton have jobs)

Anyway, it seemed like we pretty much all got the same memo that this year, Mac Jones would be freed from the shackles of the 2022 Patriots offense and teamed up with his Alabama homie Bill O’Brien, and that should tell us all we need to know. If Jones can’t at least prove that he belongs as a starting QB with a proven offensive coordinator and the addition of a couple guys you remember from your 2019 fantasy team, then best-case scenario, the Patriots are looking at a return to the postseason, and worst-case.....well, if the worst happens, at least we know where the team stands at the most important position in sports. Even if where they stand is, “How many chances do you get to draft in the top 10, REALLY?”

That all seemed straightforward enough, until Tuesday afternoon when Pro Football Talk dropped a report that, at the very least, probably made you sit up straight in your chair:

Our fearless leader Bernd Buchmasser has his trademark well-reasoned analysis of the news here, so definitely check that out if you haven’t already. For our purposes here, though, we’re going to assume that this is like every rumor and this one has at least some basis in fact. Where you want to put the slider on the sliding scale of “To what extent should I take this seriously, REALLY?” that’s up to you.

Here’s the deal: not to go all LinkedIn on you, but if you could boil down Bill Belichick’s core team-building philosophy down to one principle, it’s that you never, ever stop exploring opportunities to improve your team. Be that annoying guy in your fantasy league that constantly asks what it would take to trade for everyone. At least let everybody know that you’re interested, so in the event that the deal that sounds dumb in the moment looks better a few months later, maybe they’ll recall, “Oh yeah, let’s see if they’re still down to make some Monopoly deals with us.”

Or, to hear a smarter person say it, the Patriots generally stay out of making oh-no-they-didn’t blockbuster deals in free agency or bombshell trades. Unless, it’s for, like then-Grantland columnist Bill Barnwell put it, “...talents at the top of the market they would otherwise be unable to acquire”.

That serves the obvious purpose of not paying the equivalent of Ticketmaster surge pricing money for mid free agents or trade targets, and it also affords Bill Belichick the luxury of what the Athletic Football Show guys are fond of calling pivot points or offramps. Bill’s not locked in to any one non-Brady person being the vital Jenga piece to the Patriots’ success.

Sure, he deals out his primo contracts as he sees fit — the Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins deals come to mind, just to name a few — but in the years that the latter three were unavailable for extended periods of time, it’s not like that meant it was time to close the book on the season and start watching The Office again.

On the more fun side of things, Belichick’s famously cavalier attitude towards dealing away a perfectly fine player because their performance either wasn’t equivalent to their salary anymore or because he had the chance to acquire a true BAMF is pretty inarguably a key ingredient in the whole “Six Rings” thing. The part where no player is truly untouchable also allows the Patriots the flexibility to maneuver around the draft board, dip in and out of free agency when Belichick deems it an opportunity too good to pass up, and in general avoid the top-heavy YOLO-type team-building that the Los Angeles Rams and and the New Orleans Saints embrace (with, obviously, wildly varying results).

So, to bring this back to Mac Jones: is it that unreasonable to think that Bill Belichick was exploring ways to make this team better, and floated the idea of, “What do you think about Mac?” to some teams that either don’t have a bona fide BAMF at quarterback, or are *cough* building Patriots West?

If for no other reason, than to see whether some of the historically dumbest teams in the NFL like the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are willing to part with either enough draft capital or a baller enough player that Belichick wouldn’t decide that an X-percent drop-off at QB would be worth a Y-percent upgrade (att receiver/pass-rusher/corner/etc.)?

Or, god, I hesitate to even bring this up, but is it unreasonable to think that he could be at least seeing what other teams would give up for Mac Jones, for the purposes of figuring out if he could upgrade the quarterback position? Whether that means a trade up in the draft, a proven veteran signal-caller that could be pried loose with the offer of a QB like Mac with another couple years of a rookie contract, or (gulp) an MVP who just turned 26 and was drafted behind Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel in 2018 and is available for the relatively low price of... draft picks and money?

We could go on for days and days about to what degree we, collectively and individually, think Mac Jones is The Guy or not, or has the potential to be, or just needs more protection/weapons/plays that aren’t 9-8-9/etc., but the one constant we should be able to agree on is that Mac Jones has not proven that he is The Guy yet. Doesn’t matter if you’re a tape grinder, an analytics dork, or a kiss-the-rings type. Mac hasn’t fulfilled any of those criteria to a degree where any logical person would conclude that he’s untouchable, in the way that Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow or even frenemy Josh Allen is untouchable.

All he’s proven so far is that he can succeed to an extent in favorable circumstances. And, this sounds harsh, but 2022 proved that he is not capable of elevating a bunch of mid pass-catchers with a suspect offensive line and an offensive scheme that featured more than a few plays you may recognize from intramural flag football.

Mac Jones has value. How much value, that’s anyone’s guess, and if you’re the Patriots — and specifically, if you’re coach/GM Bill Belichick — you’re almost not doing your job if you don’t find out what resources another team may be willing to give up for a player that has yet to prove he can hang with the capital-E elite at the most important position in American sports. It’s honestly, since the Patriots currently find themselves in a Schitt’s-Creek-esque situation, not that different from what the Chicago Bears did last month.

Da Bears had the first overall pick, but they have their quarterback, so why not see what a team that desperately needs a signal-caller like Carolina would pony up for the privilege of the No. 1 draft pick? Not to reduce these guys to commodities, but let’s talk about the trade market in real talk; if you have something another team wants, it’s your job as GM who provides players to, um, yourself as head coach, to find out just what a guy like Mac could fetch in trade value, and then determine if that value outweighs keeping him around. Both in terms of a player you can trade for, or draft picks that, if you use them right, are the butter and sugar of a half-decade run of dominance. If we’re making cookies, that is.

It’s funny, because after the last month or so of Patriots discourse, one might be of the impression that Bill Belichick is, insert your cliche here: resting on his laurels, pointing to the scoreboard, on cruise control for the next couple years until he finally one-ups Don Shula and passes the crown to Jerod Mayo, or any combination of those things.

Does a guy who (allegedly) explored trading the quarterback he picked at No. 15 overall to see if he could improve his team in the aggregate — and, quite possibly, for the long term — sound like he’s given up on winning Super Bowls and just wants to rack up cheap wins against the New York Jets for a couple years before he can kick it on his boat until he gets his gold jacket?

Other teams that we laugh at on a regular basis are famous for hanging on to their washed QBs for a year, or years (plural) too long. If Bill’s willing to at least explore either upgrading the position, or taking a minus at QB to make additions to the rest of the roster that would make the loss of Mac negligible in the long term?

That’s the kind of mindset that got the Patriots this many rings in the first place.