NFL Analysis


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What’s Next for New England Patriots QB Mac Jones?

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) warms up before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

The post-Tom Brady era that started so well in New England is already coming to its bitter end. 

All signs point to divorce between Mac Jones and the New England Patriots. Every report coming out of New England suggests the Patriots will trade Jones before next season, and the team will start someone else at quarterback. 

Early Returns Don't Equal Long-Term Results

After three short years, it's already over for the Patriots and their first post-Brady experiment.

It's easy to forget now, but Jones briefly looked like the only quarterback from the 2021 Draft class with his act together. Of course, there was a lot of imperfect information at the time. 

Urban Meyer was undermining Trevor Lawrence in a truly spectacular fashion. As intended, Trey Lance was riding the bench to get some developmental time. In Chicago, Justin Fields was stuck playing for a lame-duck head coach in an offense that never fit his skill set. 

Jones, by contrast, looked pretty put together for a rookie. That was always the book on Jones coming out of college — smart, quick on the draw and accurate. All of that seemed to pay off right away. He was like a version of Philip Rivers, still in the early stages of his football evolutionary process.

Statistically, Jones was rock solid. His 49.4 percent success rate as a rookie ranks second-best since 2004, trailing only Dak Prescott. By EPA per dropback, Jones falls to 15th at 0.04, but that was still an above-average mark among rookies since 2004, according to TruMedia. 

That blend of production made perfect sense for Jones' skill set. His entire game was about winning before the snap, making the right decisions and getting the ball where it needed to go on time.

As his success rate suggests, Jones did that quite well. He never had the athletic ability or arm talent to create outside the pocket or fit certain high-difficulty throws, which would always put a ceiling on his game. That largely explains why Jones' EPA per dropback, more a measure of explosive ability than consistency compared to success rate, is comparatively worse.

Things Fall Apart

Steady as Jones was as a rookie, there was always the looming question about what he would look like in less-than-ideal conditions. New England's current setup is not quarterback-friendly. But in 2021, the Patriots had a respectable offensive line, a functional skill group led by Jakobi Meyers, with Josh McDaniels calling plays.

The last point might not feel like a plus, but McDaniels always put together stellar offenses in New England as a play-caller. It's just his head coaching stints that have gone awry.

A lot of that fell away in 2022 and 2023. The offensive line got worse via roster attrition. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge called plays in 2022, neither of whom previously called offensive plays, and then Bill O'Brien tried to right the ship in 2023. 

Meyers left in 2023, and all the Patriots did to make up for it was sign Juju Smith-Schuster, who ended up being a slower version of the same thing. None of the comfort and guard rails Jones enjoyed as a rookie remain. 

Here's a look at the Patriots' top pass catchers in 2024.

PlayerReceiving YardsCatchesTouchdowns
Demario Douglas561490
Hunter Henry419426
Kendrick Bourne406374
Devante Parker394330
Ezekiel Elliott31351*2
*Elliott's 51 catches led the team

Jones does not have the physical ability to compensate for any of it. He only got worse and worse the more he played under those conditions, one bad habit reinforcing another repeatedly.

HOw Jones Has Changed

Some of it was foreseeable. Jones's inability to create became a massive issue when the offense had fewer answers in structure, and the offensive line was worse. He was asked to create more but was not capable of doing it. 

It's also not like Jones suddenly garnered the arm strength to unlock all the throws outside the numbers and down the field he struggled with. Not having those clubs in his bag was fine when the offense was consistent in 2021, but without ground to stand on in either 2022 or 2023, the absence of those high-leverage throws was glaring. 

Other aspects of Jones' decline have been less predictable. He is no longer the quick, clean decision-maker he was at first. He still, generally, works best when throwing early in the down, but there are far more instances, especially in 2023, where Jones randomly takes the inhibitor off and makes a testy throw into coverage. 

It's completely uncharacteristic of who he was as a rookie. It’s as if he's realized the long stretches of clean decision-making no longer net the same positive results they did in 2021, so now he feels the need to press. 

Jones has also gotten worse under pressure. Two years of getting beat to hell behind shoddy protection plans and offensive line play will do that to any young quarterback.

But Jones used to be willing to hang in the pocket and make throws, at least to an acceptable level for an NFL starter. Now, Jones shies away at the first sign of contact, severely limiting his ability to complete anything under duress.

What Situation Makes Sense?

Now, Jones has arrived at an awkward spot in 2023. 

As a rookie, Jones' physical limitations didn't seem to matter much because of how buttoned-up and accurate he was. He is no longer a reliable, quick-witted decision-maker, though.

He's rattled, a tattered shell of a quarterback who was once as steady as young players get. Jones has lost the mental advantage that made him effective and will never attain the physical gifts that have long put a ceiling on his game. He's in limbo. 

Jones will need time and care to become the quarterback he once was. Without any ability to create or arm talent that could fit in any scheme, he will need time away from the starting job to find himself again. He'll need proper guidance to regain the confidence necessary to be the popgun quick-draw savant he was as a rookie. 

With that in mind, most teams with immediate quarterback openings don’t make sense for Jones. Teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers should be off the table, barring some other move those teams make that would allow Jones to be the backup. 

Jones instead needs a place where he can come in as the backup with zero pressure to start. The Ryan Tannehill pathway in Tennessee, if you will. 

Many reports had San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan interested in drafting Mac Jones in 2022. Could the Patriots quarterback be headed to the 49ers and Shanahan. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Where Jones Fits

The Minnesota Vikings could make some sense. Sitting outside the top 10 for this year's draft, the Vikings could feel pressured to re-sign Kirk Cousins. Bringing in Jones as a stable backup and potential succession plan makes sense, unexciting as that may be for Vikings fans. 

The Denver Broncos could be interested in Jones. Part of coach Sean Payton's apparent frustrations with Russell Wilson is that he couldn't handle as much pre-snap and in the full dropback game as Payton is used to with his quarterbacks. Jones has his limitations, too, but it's hard not to see the world where Payton gets out of Jones what he got out of Teddy Bridgewater a while back. 

There's also the potential for Kyle Shanahan to do the funniest thing ever. So many rumors and reports leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft suggested the San Francisco 49ers wanted Jones rather than Lance but ultimately went for the home run swing with the latter.

This could be Shanahan's chance to double back on that decision, assuming he liked Jones in the first place. It's extremely unlikely Jones would supplant Brock Purdy, but the 49ers need a backup anyway, with Sam Darnold's contract expiring.

>>READ: 1 Free Agent Every Team Should Re-Sign

Quarterback Purgatory

Regardless of where Jones ends up, it's difficult to see the world in which he sheds his scars from 2022 and 2023 to become a high-caliber quarterback. It certainly won't happen right away. Jones is already fighting an uphill battle to get into that territory because of his physical limitations, never mind how much his confidence and the mental side of his game need to be rebuilt. 

Jones is in purgatory now. He's shown too much promise to be valued like typical backup quarterbacks are. But he's also imploded in a way that makes his physical limitations prohibitive to a team outwardly investing in him as a starting quarterback. 

Jones may be a starting quarterback in this league again, but it won't be in 2024, and it won't be with the Patriots.