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Let's examine the latest Mac Jones trade chatter

Sports Final: Jerod Mayo's staff is introduced and what the Patriots will be looking for at NFL Comb
Sports Final: Jerod Mayo's staff is introduced and what the Patriots will be looking for at NFL Comb 06:54

BOSTON -- Technically, NFL stands for National Football League. In actuality, it might as well stand for Not For Long.

I literally just came up with that one myself. Don't steal it. Make sure to credit me. Extremely clever of me, if I do say so myself. Incredible stuff.

Just kidding -- but! The old adage comes to mind these days, with the Patriots -- just three years from believing Mac Jones was the franchise quarterback -- are seemingly on the verge of investing the No. 3 overall pick into drafting the next franchise quarterback in New England. Doing so would, naturally, mean the organization -- under new head coach Jerod Mayo and new personnel head Eliot Wolf -- is moving away from Jones after three seasons.

And the latest news out of the combine in Indianapolis indicates that the wheels have been set in motion in that regard.

"The Patriots really want to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 pick," The Athletic's Jeff Howe and Chad Graff wrote 

Later, the duo wrote that "a trade [of Mac Jones] is seen around the league as a mutually beneficial move."

MassLive's Karen Guregian, Mark Daniels and Chris Mason also reported on the likelihood of a Jones trade.

"The Patriots' other order of business will be moving on from Mac Jones," they wrote. "According to a source, it's still expected that the Patriots will trade Jones this offseason. The 2021 first-round pick will likely benefit from a fresh start."

That much has been widely assumed, but the inclusion of that nugget in the story suggests that the Patriots are very likely considering making a move. Doing so wouldn't be unique, as Trey Lance (third overall pick in 2021) was traded last year, and Zach Wilson (No. 2 overall pick in 2021) and Justin Fields (11th overall pick) are involved in trade chatter this offseason as well. 

Of the five QBs selected in the top 15 picks in 2021, only top overall pick Trevor Lawrence may remain with the team that drafted him in year four. (Sounds a lot like NOT FOR LONG if you ask me.)

After Jones failed to improve under Bill O'Brien a year after the disastrous Matt Patricia-Joe Judge experiment, a change of scenery could help him restart his career. And another team would likely be willing to cough up a fifth-round pick or something to that effect in order to give Jones a shot, likely as a backup.

Remember, just two offseasons ago, Jones was a (replacement) Pro Bowler and NFL Top 100 player doing the Griddy and making the region believe he might be the quarterback for the next decade. Now, he seems destined to play somewhere else.

Let's examine the development from all angles.

Draft Uncertainty: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, or J.J. McCarthy?

The major issue with moving on to the next guy is that the Patriots aren't in control of who that next guy will be. Sitting at No. 3 is all well and good, but if the Patriots identify two real franchise QBs and they're off the board when it's time to make their pick, do they take the guy they're less sold on just because of the position?

It's a tough spot. Not the worst spot, no, but not ideal for a team that desperately wants to land the quarterback of the future.

Not helping matters is the vastly different styles of Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels, the two QBs expected to be taken after presumed No. 1 pick Caleb Williams. Having the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Daniels who rushed for 3,330 yards and 34 touchdowns in college would require a massively different offensive philosophy than having the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Maye would. From roster construction, to the rest of the draft, to the playbook, there's just tremendous variance at play. And it's possible the Patriots will be less sold on one idea over the other.

(You're also hearing a lot of positive things about J.J. McCarthy these days. He's been shooting up the draft boards, as they say. We'll see in late April whether that holds true, and/or whether the Patriots like him enough to believe he's the guy.) 

Free-Agent Quarterback Options Are Not Great

Here's another potential problem: If the Patriots hope to sign a free-agent quarterback (as both The Athletic and MassLive stories said they do), the options are ... shall we say, sparse.

The best options would be Kirk Cousins or Baker Mayfield. But Mayfield played well enough last year to make his Tampa organization believe in him and also earn a real contract. A (for all intents and purposes) one-year deal to start while a rookie sits is not in the cards for a QB who's been desperate for stability since entering the league in 2018.

Cousins, meanwhile, will be expensive, and he's coming off a torn Achilles at 36 years old. He's not an ideal fit.

Separately, this line from the MassLive story won't get too many people jumping for joy in New England: "Free agents to watch include Jacoby Brissett and Joe Flacco."


Jacoby Brissett, a third-round pick by the Patriots in 2016, is OK at playing quarterback in the NFL. He's topped 300 passing yards six times (with a high of 326) in his career. He's thrown at least three touchdowns in a game just four times, doing so with zero interceptions in the same game just twice. His career passer rating of 85.3 is a touch lower than Mitchell Trubisky's mark of 85.5.

He's OK. Great guy. Not exciting.

And Flacco? The Comeback Player of the Year story was fun, but he also threw 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in five regular-season games. He had a touchdown and two picks in Cleveland's playoff loss. He's 39. He went 3-14 as starter from 2019-22, with an 83.0 passer rating.

Do the Patriots really want to go in the direction of ... Flacco?

It leads to another question.

Why Not Just Keep Mac Jones?

While most football observers would conclude that Mac Jones is not on a track to end up in Canton (unless he buys a ticket), he has shown brief glimpses of being a competent NFL quarterback. No, really -- he has.

And if the Patriots need a bridge quarterback for a year after drafting someone high, is it not possible that Mac Jones could do a better job than Jacoby Brissett or Joe Flacco?

For one, he'd be motivated, as his NFL career would more or less be on the line. He couldn't afford to have a bad attitude about the draft pick, as his performance through the spring, summer and fall would determine whether or not he'll cash in with a big payday in the 2025 offseason. (See Mac's long-lost brother Daniel for a case of a player turning a successful fourth season for a franchise that didn't pick up the fifth-year option into big, big money.)

Secondly, he'd be cheap. He's due to make less than $3 million next year, with a cap hit just under $5 million. And while cap space is no issue for the Patriots this offseason, money saved at the quarterback spot can be the biggest advantage a team can have in loading up elsewhere on the roster.

For a comparison of performance, here's a look at Brissett's stats compared to Jones' stats since the latter entered the league in 2021:

64 percent completion rate
4,115 yards, 6.7 Y/A
20 TDs, 10 INTs
87.3 passer rating
6-10 W-L record
332 rush yards, 3 TDs  

66.1 percent completion rate
8,918 yards, 6.8 Y/A
46 TDs, 36 INTs
85.8 rating
18-24 record
327 rush yards, 1 rush TD 

Are Mac Jones' numbers good? No! (And those pick-sixes were even worse than the numbers might indicate.) Are the numbers the same, if not better, than Brissett's? Sure seems like. Factor in the coaching and personnel issues surrounding Jones over the past couple of years, and can you really say he's a worse option for the team if they're looking for a quarterback for one season?

For as exhausting as the past couple of years may have been with Jones ... he may be the best choice to fill this specific role for the Patriots in 2024.

Unless ...

It Might Be Too Late For Mac Jones

There's a significant potential hindrance to Mac Jones playing quarterback for the Patriots in 2024, and it is that many people on the Patriots roster, coaching staff and front office may not want Mac Jones to be on the Patriots in 2024. That would be an issue. And we have reason to believe it's the case.

Most recently, director of scouting Eliot Wolf (the GM without the GM title) told the media this week in Indianapolis this week that body language is very important for a quarterback.

"Body language on the field is very important at that position," Wolf said. "You don't want a guy that's throwing his hands up after a bad play, or you can see him physically pointing at somebody. Body language is important. Everybody's looking at the quarterback."

That comment was interpreted by many (including present company) as a direct criticism of Jones, who's had numerous emotional outbursts on the field and on the sideline over the past couple of seasons -- especially in 2022. 

New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was also extremely non-committal when asked if he could envision Mac Jones being the Patriots' starting quarterback next season, only saying that "everything is on the table." He never said "yes."

Veteran cornerback Jonathan Jones also admitted during an interview on Radio Row at this year's Super Bowl that the defense got frustrated with the offense last season.

"I feel like it's inevitable. If you're in a marriage and you're the only one putting in work, and that's how you feel, eventually that's going to come out as frustration. If you think you're the only one that's picking up the kids, you're the only one doing something," Jones told Zolak & Bertrand. "It's literally that feeling of like, if you wake up and you feel like, consistently, week in and week out, you're the only one that's still showing up, that's going to start to develop some frustration." 

That's a polite way for a member of a top-10 defense to talk about the worst scoring offense in the NFL being unable to pull a fair share of weight in a 4-13 season.

It's particularly relevant because, as you know, head coach Jerod Mayo ... coached the defense last year. Any frustrations from defensive players toward the offense and Mac Jones in particular were likely vocalized clearly in meetings and even on the practice field last year. And if Mayo knows that Patriots players don't believe in Mac Jones, then he may conclude that indeed, someone like Brissett or (gulp) Flacco has a better chance to stand in as a starter for one year.

There's more to wonder -- What if Marvin Harrison Jr. or Joe Alt is a better pick than the third QB? Might there be an as-yet unimagined trade for a QB that we're not thinking of? -- but for now, we're wondering about Mac Jones. The Patriots moving on from him certainly makes plenty of sense, and this week's reporting suggests it's an inevitability. Perhaps Mayo, Wolf and the rest of the Patriots' decision-makers believe that's the only way forward. It's just worth considering the possibility that a Jones trade alone won't necessarily make life significantly better in 2024.

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