The Mac Jones–New England Patriots connection always made sense. In the end, the surprise was that Bill Belichick didn’t have to be too aggressive to choose him and continue his rapid rebuild in Foxborough.
While the Bears traded up to swoop Ohio State’s Justin Fields at 11th overall, the Patriots stood pat at 15th. And Jones, who was expected to be gone well before the halfway point in Thursday’s opening round, fell into New England’s lap. Perhaps the Patriots have found their successor to Tom Brady. Jones will step into the shadow of the game’s biggest legend, but expectations won’t be quite that high when he does take the field.
Even after the Patriots re-signed Cam Newton earlier this offseason, they’ve considered adding another quarterback. New England reportedly showed interest in Matthew Stafford (who didn’t want to play there), Deshaun Watson (whose is facing sexual assault and sexual misconduct lawsuits), and Sam Darnold (who was traded to the Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth-rounder and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022). There were reports that New England took the temperature of the trade market entering the draft and was seeking to get into the top 10 with its eye on Fields.
The Patriots had been hasty this offseason addressing other positions. They entered the offseason with plenty of money and proceeded to spend it on what amounted to the league’s most impressive roster shake-up. The Patriots added tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, pass rusher Matt Judon, defensive linemen Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux, center Ted Karras, and defensive back Jalen Mills. They also traded for offensive tackle Trent Brown, while re-signing defensive end Deatrich Wise and star special teamer Justin Bethel. It seemed Belichick would rather be damned than go 7-9 again. That furiously aggressive approach, however, was applied to everything except the QB position.
The Patriots took their time before re-signing Newton, bringing the 31-year-old back on a one-year, $5.1 million deal. And even as it seemed possible that the 49ers might make former New England second-round choice Jimmy Garoppolo available, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday night that a reunion shouldn’t be expected. The Patriots were aggressive in gauging their market, never made a move, and might have landed the very player they’ve wanted all along in Jones, despite straying from their conventional approach; Jones is the first QB that Belichick has ever drafted in the first round.
Life after Tom Brady was never destined to be easy, and it will take some change in Belichick’s approach to restore the Patriots as a legitimate power. Regardless, in the most Belichickian way, Jones landing in New England seemed like a fortunate and predictable outcome. Like other Crimson Tide players before him who moved from the NCAA Death Star to the NFL’s version of it, Jones is Belichick’s 11th draft choice who was coached by Nick Saban. Just like those other choices before him—and just like Brady well before him—Jones will have to earn his keep. And after he was selected Thursday night, he expressed an understanding that he won’t be immediately handed the Patriots’ starting gig.
“Cam earned the respect of the team,” Jones told reporters, per USA Today’s Henry McKenna. “My job is to support him. … I’m just going to be the great teammate that I know I can be.”
Only time will tell just how Brady-like Jones is. He poked fun at himself Thursday night, resurfacing a tweet in which he made fun of their similarly less-than-impressive physiques. But the similarities between Jones and Brady for what they’ve shown on the field—great vision and anticipation, the ability to lead targets with great touch and accuracy at different areas and levels of the field, efficient pocket management, and competitiveness—are what will give Jones a chance to succeed. Still, Jones pushed back on the comparison during an April 15 interview with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, expressing understanding that “I’ve got a long way to go” to living up to such a standard. Perhaps, by landing with the Patriots, he’s closer to reaching that potential than he initially thought.