For much of last season, Bill Belichick refused to publicly commit to Mac Jones as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback.
That didn’t change Monday.
During his first offseason conference at the NFL annual meeting, Belichick was asked whether Jones and second-year backup Bailey Zappe will be “competing for the starting job” in the coming months.
“Everybody will get a chance to play, and we’ll play the best players,” the Patriots head coach told reporters in Phoenix.
Belichick said that mindset applies not just behind center, but at “every position.”
“Everybody will get a chance to play,” he said. “Everybody that’s on our roster, if they earn the opportunity to play based on what they do in practice and all that, then they’ll get an opportunity to play. Certainly, veteran players that have been on the team before, if they’re still on the team, they’ll all get an opportunity to play.”
Jones is viewed as the favorite to start as he enters his third pro season and should benefit from the arrival of new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The 2021 first-round draft pick clashed with play-caller Matt Patricia and QBs coach Joe Judge last season as his play regressed and the offense around him sputtered.
O’Brien, who briefly overlapped with Jones at Alabama, has far more offensive coaching experience than Patricia and Judge, and he looked like the ideal choice to get New England’s young signal-caller back on track after a rocky sophomore campaign.
“Bill’s a good coach,” Belichick said. “I think he’ll help any position.”
But Jones will need to win back a vocal pocket of the Patriots fanbase that fell in love with Zappe last October and still views him as the more desirable starting option. Zappe, a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft out of Western Kentucky, impressed while Jones was sidelined with a high ankle sprain, nearly pulling out an overtime win at Lambeau Field in his NFL debut before piloting the Patriots to comfortable victories in each of his first two professional starts.
Zappe looked pedestrian in the second half of his fourth appearance — a disastrous Week 7 loss to the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football” — and Jones proceeded to play every offensive snap over the Patriots’ final 10 games. During that stretch, Belichick’s lukewarm comments about Jones fueled a quarterback controversy that has yet to be truly resolved.
The Patriots went 5-5 over those final 10 contests and missed the playoffs by one game. Their offense topped 25 points just once after Jones’ return from injury, and the back half of their season will be best remembered for the QB’s increasingly frequent on-field outbursts.
Asked after the season whether he envisions Jones starting in 2023 if healthy, Belichick replied: “Mac has the ability to play quarterback in this league,” again sidestepping a chance to back a player who showed franchise QB potential as a rookie and garnered rave reviews from Belichick himself last summer.
Belichick was asked Monday whether he was disappointed in Jones’ Year 2 performance. Reports have indicated he “didn’t appreciate” the way the 24-year-old conducted himself last season.
“Well, as a team, we didn’t perform very well last year, so I think we all need to do a better job,” Belichick replied. “That’s all of us.”
Belichick would not comment on which specific improvements he wants Jones to make this offseason.
“We talk to all the players individually about what they can do and things that we can do and so forth,” he said. “So I’ll just keep that between myself and the individual players.”
The coach was similarly tight-lipped on whether the Patriots would consider making a blockbuster trade for Lamar Jackson, saying he wouldn’t comment on players from other teams.