Patriots' trade deadline approach proves it's all about next year – and Mac Jones


I didn’t grow up a Chicago Cubs fan, but I’ve been around enough to know that the Cubs' unofficial motto is "Better luck next year."

Maybe the season would just be downright bad. Sometimes, it was just good enough to keep you interested without really having a shot at going anywhere. But it always ended up the same way: without a World Series championship (except that one time.)

This year’s New England Patriots are about to live that latter reality for the second straight season.

They are not great. They are not horrible. They are just fine, and “fine” isn’t good enough to win a Super Bowl.

Tuesday's trade deadline reinforced that point. Even as the division rival Bills and Dolphins made significant moves to bolster their Super Bowl aspirations for 2022, the Patriots sat tight and let the deadline go by without making any moves in or out, despite all the speculation surrounding their receivers and their need at the linebacker position.

They are playing out the string on this year knowing they are not about to do anything significant, regardless of what they say or how hard they still intend to compete.

If we’re being honest, that’s not the wrong approach here. In fact, it’s a very consistent one.

The way they constructed their roster this season suggested going all-in on a Super Bowl was not the intention. Rather, they seemed to want to put together a solid team with a baseline amount of competitiveness that allowed them to evaluate their second-year quarterback Mac Jones and see if he was worth investing in for next year.

After all, you can be assured Bill Belichick can see the trends at work here. Teams aren't throwing in all their chips too early in young quarterbacks these days. They’re waiting for Year 2: the year Josh Allen broke out in Buffalo, the season Jones' old Alabama teammates Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are now excelling in their teams, and the campaign Chicago seems to be gearing up for with Jones’ fellow 2021 classmate Justin Fields.

Of course, Jones' injury and backup quarterback Bailey Zappe's emergence complicated things quite a bit.

Some might have already thrown in the towel on Jones and are looking forward to the next quarterback — perhaps even Zappe, who gave the Patriots three weeks of competent football before playing like a fourth-round rookie in the second half against Chicago.

The likes of Hurts and Tagovailoa suggest doing so would be a mistake. Just because a quarterback doesn’t bust out in their second year the way Patrick Mahomes, one of the most talented passers to ever play, and Justin Herbert did doesn’t mean they’re doomed. As long as the Patriots see enough flashes of what they need to see from Jones this year, he’s worth keeping an open mind about for another year at least.

Here’s the other question you need to ask yourself: what gets you closer to a Super Bowl?

Yes, we’ve already established the Patriots aren’t winning anything this year, but this question is about the future rather than the present.

Do you ride with Jones, see what he’s got and then build around him next year assuming you can get him back on track? Do you give up on Jones now, play Zappe to see if he’s better than you hope and potentially roll into next year with him as your new Tom Brady avatar? Or do you bench Jones, let Zappe take his lumps and try to make an aggressive play for a quarterback in 2023, despite likely being out of range for Bryce Young or CJ Stroud?

There’s always the promise of new hope with the “new quarterback” route, whether it’s going with the backup (Zappe in this case) or just drafting another guy high in the draft. Here’s the problem though: what happens when those is like 99 percent of other young quarterbacks and don’t magically blossom into a star in Year 2? Do you just chuck them out with the bathwater every time until you find someone that supernovas right away?

Do you have any idea how long you could be waiting for that to happen and how many Super Bowls you could be watching other teams win? I do. I grew up a Bears fan.

In the end, Jones may not be it. It’s perfectly possible, maybe even likely. Perhaps having that X-factor quarterback who can make defenses uncomfortable in more ways than one can be helping in a league that’s been stopping traditional pocket passers forever and still hasn’t fully adapted to the new-age quarterback who can run and gun.

But you don’t know that now, no matter what anyone tells you, and you’re not going to know unless you give him an honest chance to succeed or fail. Playing Bailey Zappe doesn’t accomplish that, and it definitely doesn’t get you closer to winning a championship unless the goal is to try and go 0-9 for the rest of the season and get a top-five pick.

There weren't any additions to make the roster significantly better at the deadline to create a "win-now" atmosphere where the Patriots would definitely ride with the "hot hand" at quarterback, and they didn't gut the roster to make it a "see what you have in the rookie" situation, either.

This year is now solely about Mac Jones and seeing if he’s worth the investment you made in him. If he is, there are about 50.1 million reasons he and the Patriots can take a step forward in 2023 and truly compete for the playoffs.

Until then, look forward with as much hope as you can. Better luck next year.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Kevin R. TODAY NETWORK