When the Patriots selected Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick in the NFL Draft, they declared him their quarterback of the future.
But, when that actually will begin is still to be determined.
“Cam’s [Newton] our quarterback,” Bill Belichick said last Thursday night. “Whatever time Jarrett (Stidham) or Mac are ready to challenge him and compete, we’ll see how that goes. Right now, for Mac, he’s got a lot of learning in front of him, and I know he’s very anxious to get going with it and get started.”
This was classic Belichick. Jones was getting a ton of hype in the media and he wanted to calm the masses. At the same time, by doing so he took some of the pressure off Jones and stayed committed to Newton, who was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason.
But when should we expect to see Jones take over as the starting quarterback?
According to Mike Lombardi, it won’t be until 2022.
“I think it is a year,” he said on The GM Shuffle podcast over the weekend. “Look, they are going to coach the [expletive] out of him. They are going to get him in there. He’s going to be smart as hell. Look, here is what you have to do to play quarterback for the Patriots: You have to have great intelligence. You have to have really great anticipation with the football. And you have to be deadly accurate. Those are the three things Mac Jones does. Now, Mac Jones can’t run the power out of shotgun. Mac Jones isn’t going to run the quarterback sweep. There’s going to be two different offenses here, but they are going to be the same passing game. This is what I think people disconnect a little bit here. The passing game will be the same for Cam and it will be the same for Mac Jones.
“… I think Mac Jones will take a redshirt year. He’s going to have to prove it. The one thing Belichick is not going to do, he’s not going to give anybody a job whether he picks them 15 or he picks them 1,500. They are going to have to earn it. Mac Jones is going to have to go in there and earn it. I think it will be a great quarterback room for them. I think they have great competition in the room and we’ll see what he can do. They will get a chance to really develop him and allow him to work on his craft, and really get him ready to play.”
This isn’t a popular opinion since it means another year of Newton as the Patriots’ starting quarterback and Jones was reportedly ready to start for San Francisco if it selected him No. 3 overall. But, the reality is this would make the most sense for the Patriots.
The Jones selection was made more so for the long-term than 2021. It’s about getting the most out of him and staying patient could maximize what that turns out to be since starting him too soon could potentially harm his development.
It would seem in almost every scenario Newton would start Week 1, as that’s how things go in the NFL. Unless a QB is a top three pick, more often than not they do not start right away. Just look at Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa last year. Both players ultimately took over as starters during the year, but that scenario may be tough to pull off in New England.
Having Newton as the starter is different than Miami having Ryan Fitzpatrick and Los Angeles having Tyrod Taylor. Newton is one of the more popular players in the league and is already putting in the time this offseason with his new teammates both with private workouts and attending the voluntary offseason workout program.
How would the locker room react to Newton being demoted in the middle of the season? It’s certainly worth asking as last year Belichick stuck with him all year and one of the reported reasons was how it would have been perceived in the locker room if he were to be benched.
And then why would a change take place if the team was say 6-1 and rolling? And at the same time, if the team was 2-5 turning things over to Jones would put a ton of pressure on the rookie to get things back on track. That probably wouldn't be worth it, either.
Making Jones the starter in the middle of the season just feels like a tough thing to pull off, which is why it makes sense to treat it like a redshirt year, as Lombardi suggested.
It wouldn’t be the first time a team has done it and it’s worked out.
The Chiefs did it in 2017 with Patrick Mahomes when Alex Smith was the starter. Sure, it was a little different considering Smith led Kansas City to the playoffs a year before, but it traded up for Mahomes at No. 10 overall and still didn’t feel pressured to make him the starter in Year 1.
The Patriots should look to that as a model for how to handle Jones in Year 1. Perhaps Belichick should get some intel from close friend Andy Reid on how he was able to get Mahomes the experience he needed on the practice field to develop chemistry with starters as the backup, as well as in the meeting rooms to be ready to start games the following year.
Jones could very well be ready to start games this season, but it’s better for his long-term future with the organization for him to be more than ready when he makes his first start. Last year with Newton it was clear the offense takes time to learn and that was with a former MVP who had nine years of NFL experience. It likely will be even harder for a rookie, so it makes sense to be as patient as possible and use the 2021 season to make sure Jones is as comfortable as can be.
And as it relates to the 2021 team, how much better would things really be with Jones over Newton? Is it the difference between getting to the playoffs and not? No, the team is built to get to the postseason even with Newton as the quarterback. It’s not like the Patriots are positioned to win the Super Bowl in 2021 and need Jones to get them over the top.
Holding Jones back in 2021 isn’t the worst thing for the organization to do.
Belichick has always had the motto of it’s better to get rid of a player a year early opposed to a year too late. Well, in the case of Jones it’s better to start a quarterback a year late opposed to a year too early.