Mac Jones should get a pass for his uneven second season with the Patriots. The sophomore quarterback’s regression was just one of many symptoms resulting from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge’s failed leadership over New England’s offense. We’ve been over all of this.
But with Bill O’Brien now back in Foxboro, Jones will deserve no such excuses if he fails in his pivotal third season.
The Patriots on Tuesday reportedly hired O’Brien as their next offensive coordinator. O’Brien’s ability to be an above-average head coach at the NFL level is up for debate, but there’s no denying his ability to lead an offense. The issues that plagued New England in 2022 — awful receiver spacing, poor route-running, lack of discipline and bad offensive line play, among other things — should be cleaned up. Plus, O’Brien has an established connection with Jones, with the two briefly overlapping at Alabama in 2021.
Jones reportedly is “very” excited about the O’Brien hiring — and he should be. Unlike last season, the 2021 first-round pick will get the coaching he needs and be put in a position to succeed. Plus, O’Brien’s fiery, fearless personality should help to assuage Jones’ penchant for emotional in-game outbursts.
So, now it’s on Jones. While impatient, Tom Brady-loving Patriots fans understandably wanted Jones to reach stardom in his second season, the reality is that Year 3 really is the make-or-break campaign for most young quarterbacks.
It’s when Josh Allen took off. Jalen Hurts, too. Same thing for Matthew Stafford. Even Baker Mayfield excelled in his third season before coaching ineptitude and instability — and his own flaws — brought him back down to Earth. Obviously, there are examples of quarterbacks going the other way in Year 3. By the end of his third season, Blake Bortles clearly was a backup — even though he kept starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jameis Winston solidified his status as a talented-but-far-too-erratic quarterback. Sam Darnold was traded after this third season, though the New York Jets deserve a ton of blame for his failures. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes, Year 4 offers the referendum. New York Giants fans now believe Daniel Jones is a franchise quarterback after a resurgent campaign. After playing relatively well in 2018 for the Super Bowl-losing Rams, Jared Goff proved in Year 4 that he wasn’t good enough to get Los Angeles over the hump.
The point: We absolutely are entering put-up-or-shut-up time for Mac Jones. We should have our answer on whether he’s “the guy” by the end of next season.
That’s not to say the Patriots have nothing else to do this offseason. There still is much work to be done to repair their broken offense. At a minimum, New England must add a franchise offensive tackle and improve their receiving corps. Maybe Bill Belichick finally goes out and adds an elite pass-catcher. You could make an argument for implementing a fullback, too.
However, assuming the Patriots use the salary cap space and draft assets at their disposal to fortify their offensive roster, Jones will have everything he needs to take a needed Year 3 jump. If he drops the ball, that’s on him.