1 – It’s become pretty clear that everyone in New England is expecting some degree of a bounce back season from third-year quarterback Mac Jones, even if the degrees of that optimism may be somewhat varied.
From Patriots owner Robert Kraft – who declared last week that he’s still “fan” of Jones – down through even the most dubious actual fan, it’s seemingly unanimous in this divided world that the former No. 15 overall pick should be better in 2023 if only for the arrival of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.
But what does Jones need to do in order to not only satisfy his bosses, Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, but work to appease the masses? That’s a tough question to answer.
Certainly a trip to the playoffs under Jones’ guidance and matching the accomplishment of his rookie season would be significant. But even the most loyal and optimistic New England fan would have to admit that’s an uphill battle given the overall talent of competition in both the AFC as a conference and AFC East as a division.
Clearly the first superficial step is in Jones’ alignment with his coaching staff, most importantly Belichick and O’Brien. Whether his actions were justified – they probably were – or not, Jones simply can’t be the frustrated and openly agitated leader he was a year ago and expect that it will be productive or well-received. What Kraft called the “experiment” of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge leading the offensive coaching staff has been rectified, so Jones must be the confident, stable leader that his team needs him to be this fall working in unison with his coaches, not seemingly butting heads with them.
Then there are the statistics. Jones completed 67.6 percent of his passes as a rookie with 22 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions for a 92.5 passer rating. Getting back to those numbers and surpassing them after a season in which he completed 65.2 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for an 84.8 would seem to not only be a rather realistic goal but a necessary one if Jones is to reestablish himself as the unquestioned franchise QB in Foxborough.
It’s clearly to some degree a make-or-break year for Jones’ career development in New England. But what exactly he has to do to remake himself atop the New England depth chart and prove his doubters wrong may be subjective. One thing everyone can agree on is that Jones has a lot of work to do in 2023 in order to get back to where he wants to be and his team needs him to be.
2 – While professing his affinity for Jones, Kraft did create quite a stir last week with his revelation that rapper friend Meek Mill had passed along word that former MVP free agent quarterback Lamar Jackson wanted to play for the Patriots, even if such an acquisition would be Belichick’s decision.
Kraft’s words ignited plenty of Jackson talk and speculation, as would be expected. But it also set off rather unrealistic analysis of the Jones vs. Jackson debate.
Certainly Jackson would immediately be a more exciting and accomplished quarterback if he joined the Patriots. No one could argue against that, though it’s debatable whether Jackson would return New England to contender status immediately or even at any point in the future.
But the real question isn’t Jones vs. Jackson. The question is more layered. It’s about having the No. 15 overall pick on rookie contract for the next two years compared to having to give up two first-round picks and somewhere in the range of $200 million to secure a guy who is indeed one of the most unique players in the NFL.
3 – Patricia became the focal point of frustration for Patriots fans after the New England “experiment” on the coaching staff last fall and really that’s not fair to the longtime Belichick assistant and former Lions head coach.
Kraft admitted at the NFL owners’ meetings that Patricia was “put in a difficult position” and that he’s left to “feel bad for him.” He should.
For his part Belichick, the one who put Patricia in that borderline impossible position on his staff in 2022, said he was “not sure” if his longtime assistant would have a job in New England this season. Patricia had interviewed for a role on Sean Payton’s staff in Denver, but nothing has seemingly come to fruition.
Right now it appears that Patricia is the only one really paying the price for the coaching staff “experiment” gone wrong that Belichick and Kraft oversaw in New England.
4 – While Belichick’s “last 25 years” comment and Kraft’s story about Jackson dominated the headlines from the media sessions the two held in Arizona this week, other notable comments didn’t get quite that same salacious attention. One of those included Belichick’s praise of veteran cornerback Jonathan Jones, who was re-signed by New England prior to the start of free agency.
“That was a big one,” Belichick said of reaching a two-year agreement with Jones. “Especially with Devin [McCourty’s retirement], he gives us a lot of leadership and presence back there.
“He’s been a great player for us for a long time in a lot of different roles, including the kicking game, which is where he started. He epitomizes what we want in a Patriots player. It’s great to have him.”
New England doesn’t have a lot of talent or depth at the cornerback position and keeping the versatile Jones in the mix was indeed big.
5 – The NFL passed a rule change this week that will allow players to now wear No. 0 and at least one Patriot appears rather excited by that opportunity. Second-year cornerback Jack Jones almost immediately went to social media to show his affinity for the “donut” jersey number that he wore at Arizona State. It will be interesting to see if Jones actually turns in the No. 13 he wore as a New England rookie in exchange for the newly available No. 0, and if he has to beat out other teammates for the chance to be the first to don it in 2023.
6 – While Patriots newcomers have not yet been made available to the media at large, a number of them have done sit-down interviews inside Gillette Stadium with Patriots.com.
“I’m super fired up. It’s going to be a great opportunity. Fresh start. Something I’m looking forward to,” tight end Mike Gesicki said, jumping from the divisional-rival Dolphins to land in New England this offseason.
Gesicki was actually recruited by O’Brien when he was the head coach at Penn State but never took the college field for him as the former moved on to become head coach in Houston. “It’s 10 years later now, but it’s exciting to finally to be able to play for him,” Gesicki said with a smile.
7 – Riley Reiff certainly brings plenty of NFL experience with him to his new role on the Patriots offensive line. Reiff has started 149 of his 163 career games played, with stops in Detroit, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Chicago. As the 34-year-old prepares to compete for a job in New England, Reiff declared his interested in getting a look at the Patriot way from the inside.
“Excited to come play for a great organization, try to help in any way I can,” Reiff told Patriots.com. “Just seeing the ins and outs, they’ve won tons and tons of games over the years. Getting to meet the guys in the offensive line room and the locker room. Just start forming a bond.”