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Daniel Jones potentially provides cautionary tale for Patriots with Mac Jones

Mac Jones reacts to three-turnover day in Patriots' blowout loss to Cowboys
Mac Jones reacts to three-turnover day in Patriots' blowout loss to Cowboys 01:01

BOSTON -- Beyond sharing a last name and appearing to be quite ordinary gentlemen, Daniel Jones and Mac Jones have a lot in common.

Both were first-round draft picks, and both were kind of the same quarterback through 35 starts of their NFL careers. Check this out:

751-for-1,196, 62.8%
8,012 yards, 6.7 Y/A
43 TD, 27 INT
84.9 rating
11-24 record

733-for-1,109, 66.1%
7,696 yards, 6.9 Y/A
41 TD, 28 INT
87.9 rating
17-18 record

While Mac Jones has rightfully received some relief from the coaching disaster of 2022, Daniel Jones spent the second and third years of his career working under head coach Joe Judge, adding to the quarterbacks' similarities. Daniel Jones had a rougher go of things from a coaching perspective, having two head coaches (Pat Shurmur, Judge) and three offensive coordinators (Mike Shula, Jason Garrett, Freddie Kitchens) in his first three seasons. Mac Jones is currently working with his third offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien (after Matt Patricia led the offense with Judge last year, with Josh McDaniels running the show in 2021), but he has at least had Bill Belichick as his head coach throughout his career.

The only notable differences could be found in their win-loss records and in Daniel Jones' rushing totals, as he had triple the rushing yards as Mac.

In any event, when Daniel Jones finished up his third season, the Giants weren't convinced he was the guy. So they didn't pick up his fifth-year option, which would have paid him $22.4 million in the 2023 season.

While Mac Jones still has 13 games to turn this season around, his prospects of getting that fifth-year option for 2025 don't look spectacular at the moment. Certainly, making that evaluation after the worst game of his career would be unwise, but the overall body of work from the quarterback still leaves plenty of doubt as to whether he's worth a long-term, big-money investment from the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2021.

Of course, whichever the decision the Patriots ultimately make on Mac Jones will carry some risk. If the team does pick up his fifth-year option, they'll be locked in at more than $23 million for the quarterback in 2025. If the team doesn't pick up the option, then there's a risk of Jones blossoming in year four and raising his price tag for 2025 and beyond.

The latter scenario, as we know, played out with Daniel Jones, who thrived under the competent coaching of Brian Daboll in 2022. Jones didn't light the world on fire, but he posted a career-high 67.2 percent completion rate while throwing a career-low five interceptions despite slinging a career-high 472 passes. He took care of the ball, he ran like the dickens (708 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground), and he led the Giants to nine regular-season wins before putting forth a dynamite performance in a road playoff win in Minnesota (301 passing yards, two touchdowns, 78 rushing yards, zero turnovers).

That strong quarterback play put the Giants in a tough spot. With Jones not locked in for 2023, they had to decide whether to pay the QB a market-value contract or start from scratch at the most important position on the field. 

The Giants opted for the former. Thus far ... it's looking like a rough choice.

Just like with Mac Jones, we could be prisoners of the moment with Daniel Jones, who was putrid in a Monday Night Football beatdown at the hands of the Seahawks. Jones threw no touchdowns and two interceptions, including a back-breaking pick-six when the Giants were going in to score to make it a one-possession game in the third quarter.

Jones didn't see Darren Waller breaking wide open in the end zone before forcing that pass into a crowd:

That decision left Daboll a bit mystified ... and frustrated:

The head coach was asked what he wanted Jones to do on that play in question.

"Obviously not throw an interception," he answered.

That was just one pass, yes, and we're looking at just one game, sure. But through four games this season, Daniel Jones has already surpassed his interception total from last season, as he threw his fifth and sixth picks of the year on Monday night. He's averaging a full yard less per pass attempt from last year, and he's tied for 28th in touchdown passes (2) despite throwing the 15th-most passes in the NFL. He ranks 33rd in passer rating, just behind Zach Wilson.

It's not good.

And he's in the first season of a four-year, $160 million contract with $105 million guaranteed. The Giants are stuck with him for a while. The dead money associated with cutting or trading him is simply too high until 2025 at the earliest.

So, watching the Giants painfully grind through Monday night's game, you couldn't help but wonder what the Patriots might end up doing with Mac Jones.

On the one hand, it is still true that Mac Jones has yet to have a season with good coaching, a good offensive line, and high-caliber receivers. The closest he came to having all three came in his rookie season, when he was pretty good. There's some merit in believing he can succeed in the NFL in the right environment.

On the other hand, nothing's ever perfect in the NFL. Fair or unfair, Jones is judged on the plays he makes with the ball in his hand every snap. And if he wants to earn that huge payday, he's going to have to overcome some of the obstacles.

The question from a roster management perspective is simply whether or not a $23 million investment is worth the security of avoiding a $100 million-plus price tag if Mac becomes the quarterback the organization hoped he'd become when they drafted him. The alternate outcome -- in which Jones fails to prove himself worthy of a starting job over the next 30 games -- would be the least ideal of all.

None of that is happening yet, though. For now, the Patriots are focused on trying to get their second win of the season to avoid a tailspin to the bottom of the league.

But working the background throughout the rest of the season will be the big-picture evaluation about the quarterback. In many ways, the future of the franchise will be hanging in the balance. As recently as 13 months ago, a whole lot of people believed the Patriots would be set at the quarterback position for the next decade. Now, the matter has become much more complicated.

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