Cole Strange got the call from the New England Patriots on Thursday night. Shortly thereafter, he received a text from his new quarterback.
Mac Jones messaged the Patriots’ newest draftee Friday morning, welcoming Strange to New England. Before long, the two had made plans to meet for dinner in Foxboro, Mass., that night.
“Honestly, it just felt like I was home, honestly,” Strange said Friday afternoon in an introductory news conference on the Gillette Stadium game field. “He just texted me and was like, ‘Hey man, just wanted to reach out and say what’s up.’ I was like, ‘Thank you. I’m fired up to be a Patriot.’
“We just texted back and forth, and he was asking me how long I was going to stay (in New England). I was like, ‘I don’t have a clue. They just told me to come out here.’ And then he’s like, ‘Well, we’re going to get some dinner. And I was like, ‘Yes, we are going to get some dinner, Mac.’ “
The Patriots selected Strange, an interior offensive lineman out of Chattanooga, with the 29th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft after trading down from No. 21. Jones was New England’s top selection in last year’s draft, going 15th overall. He won the starting QB job from Cam Newton in training camp and proceeded to enjoy a promising debut season, finishing second in NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and guiding the Patriots to a playoff berth.
Strange should play a prominent role in New England’s efforts to keep Jones upright this season. He projects as a Week 1 starter at left guard — the one glaring weak spot in the Patriots’ O-line entering draft weekend.
The 23-year-old FCS product also has experience at tackle and center, but 42 of his 44 collegiate starts came at left guard. He immediately becomes the favorite to replace Ted Karras, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, with Mike Onwenu sliding into Shaq Mason’s old right guard spot.
Team owner Robert Kraft said by using a premium pick on Strange, the Patriots “solidified the middle” in front of their young franchise quarterback. Previously, New England had favored mid-to-late round picks or undrafted free agents in those interior roles. Before Thursday, it hadn’t drafted a guard or center in Round 1 since Logan Mankins in 2005 — a pick that, Kraft noted, “turned out pretty well.”
Strange said he was “ecstatic” to be selected by the Patriots. He was widely viewed as a second- or third-round prospect before the draft, but head coach Bill Belichick believed he “wouldn’t have lasted much longer” and said New England likely would have chosen him at No. 21 if it hadn’t traded back.
“I’m really just blown away,” Strange said. “I know for a fact that I’m going to enjoy it here, and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”