Baker Mayfield???!!! Really, Patriots fans?????
That was the big name bandied about talk-radio airwaves, phone lines and texts this weekend by New England fans in regards to the Patriots potentially signing quarterback competition to push incumbent starter Mac Jones as he heads into his critical third NFL season.
At best, it’s a creatively curious idea. At worst it might just be the final push for Jones over the edge to close out his turbulent career in Foxborough.
Certainly 2023 is indeed going to be a make-or-break season for the former No. 15 overall pick Jones. His career is at a crossroads.
The relative accomplishments of his rookie year in winning a competition with Cam Newton to lead the Patriots offense, winning 10 games, advancing to the playoffs and his viral Pro Bowl Griddy are now distant memories, seemingly forgotten by critics and possibly overvalued by supporters.
His disastrous, frustrating sophomore season is also now mercifully part of his past. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have been relieved of their duties on the offensive coaching staff and Bill O’Brien hired to bring competency, stability and functional leadership to Jones and the entire New England offense.
Year 3 will be where the rubber meets the developmental road for still-young QB. Ideally he will make a big jump forward, well beyond the mistakes, misreads and errant throws of 2022 and past even the success he showed as a rookie. At the very least he needs to reenter to conversation of young would-be franchise QBs across the NFL.
Or, maybe Jones will continue to show limited aerial abilities and a failure to make enough plays to field a functional, competitive passing attack. That is certainly possible.
Either way 2023 is all about Jones’ development. It’s about him proving once and for all what he is and, more importantly, what he can be in the NFL over the long term.
The Patriots simply need to find out what they have in Jones.
What New England doesn’t need to do is create some sort of tumultuous competition by bringing in a big name veteran addition to the quarterback depth chart like the failed former No. 1 overall pick Mayfield. (By the way, Mayfield wasn’t the only name proposed by Patriots fans as possible competition for Jones. Others included Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson and Skylar Thompson just to name a failed few.)
If we’re being honest and avoiding polarizing hot takes, Jones is a veritable NFL unknown right now. He might just be a good-enough starter for a contender with the right mix of talent around him. Or maybe he lacks enough pure physical talent to compete at the highest level and is doomed to be an also-ran starter at best or backup the rest of the professional days.
The truth is probably in the middle, because right now it’s really hard to argue that Jones is THE GUY for the Patriots. It’s also not fair to say he’s destined to be a bust along the lines of say, someone like Mayfield.
Oh, and let’s not forget when we are discussing would-be competition for Jones in New England that short-term fan favorite Bailey Zappe is still in the mix. Veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer is also still under contract with guaranteed salary on the books for 2023. Each is capable of pushing and guiding Jones’ development in his own unique, specific way.
But Mayfield? That big personality and big-time bust would bring an entirely different and likely counterproductive dynamic to the New England QB depth chart. The guy who failed in Cleveland and Carolina only to become a desperation signing with the Rams would be the biggest quarterback circus to hit Foxborough since Tim Tebow.
New England needs to figure out what it has in Jones in 2023. Adding Mayfield feels like a move that would indicate that decision has already been made.
And if that’s the case, then Bill Belichick’s team has even bigger problems on its hands heading into 2023.