New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick slowed down the Mac Jones hype train before it really got rolling early Friday morning when he still declared Cam Newton “our quarterback.”
Less than two hours after the Patriots had selected Jones with the 15th overall pick, Belichick said the rookie QB, and third-year pro Jarrett Stidham, would have a chance to compete with Newton in due time. But Belichick made it clear that Newton was still QB1 heading into the offseason workout program even after New England spent a first-round pick on a quarterback.
Jones echoed Belichick, saying he was coming to New England to “support” Newton.
But don’t be surprised if Jones is starting sooner than Belichick is implying.
Let’s revisit some comments CBS’s Ian Eagle and Charles Davis relayed from Belichick during a Patriots-Dolphins game broadcast in late December.
” ‘Look, we’re in a new world in the NFL,’ ” Belichick said, via Eagle. ” ‘You have a young QB, if he’s drafted high, you don’t have forever to figure out whether or not he’s your guy.’
“And the idea that you can go back to the high school or the college experiences to try to assess that, he doesn’t believe that translates unless you come from a pro-style offense,” Eagle added.
“He said that helps a little bit,” Davis said. “The NFL is just so different.”
So, what does that tell us? At some point, the Patriots are going to have to throw Jones to the wolves and see if he’s ready.
Drafted in the first round, Jones comes with a four-year rookie contract and a fifth-year option for the 2025 season. So, the Patriots don’t need to feel pressured to start Jones as a rookie. Newton is on a one-year contract for the 2021 season, so the Patriots could continue to start the veteran this season and then perhaps move on to Jones in 2022 if they feel he’s made enough progress.
And if Jones impresses in OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason, then perhaps he could supplant Newton before or during the 2021 season. But for now, he’s a reserve.
Jones was in shotgun or pistol on 98.43 percent of Alabama’s offensive snaps, according to charting by Derrik Klassen of Football Outsiders and NBC Sports Edge, so he’ll need to become more comfortable under center in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system with the Patriots. Belichick did express confidence that Jones could pick up New England’s offense, however.
“He’s a smart kid,” Belichick said Friday morning. “He’s been in a system that’s similar to ours. We have had a lot of good conversations with him. I think he’ll be able to process the offense. It’s obviously going to take a lot of time.”
No matter who the Patriots picked at No. 15 overall, that player likely was going to be a backup in 2021. Jones, for now, is no different. But there’s a path for Jones to potentially start in 2021.
“Somebody would have to play better than (Newton) does,” Belichick said Friday morning.
Quarterbacks taken in the first round typically play in Year 1. Newton’s presence grants the Patriots more patience, but at some point, it will run out, and New England will have to figure out if Jones is “the guy.”