The Patriots might be at a point of no return with Mac Jones.
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio on Tuesday reported that Bill Belichick has shopped the young quarterback in trade talks with multiple teams this offseason. Florio previously offered additional details on the rumored tension between Belichick and Jones, who reportedly angered his head coach by seeking outside counsel last season.
If Florio’s reporting is accurate — and that’s an important “if” with a story this significant — you could argue the most likely outcome now is for Jones to be playing elsewhere in 2023.
There clearly is actual fire accompanying the smoke surrounding Jones and Belichick. Noncommital when asked about the 24-year-old since last October, Belichick last week indicated Jones and Bailey Zappe could be headed for a quarterback competition in training camp. And you don’t need another history lesson on why Jones was upset throughout his dysfunction-laden second campaign with the Patriots.
“The tension is real,” Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports added Tuesday afternoon. “And it goes both ways. … Jones was described by one source as having some maturity issues. Another source said that ‘Mac’s antics last season didn’t go over all that well in the building.’ Jones was often seen appearing frustrated on the field last season.”
Cracks also might be forming in New England’s front office. For as supportive of Jones as Robert Kraft has been since using a 2021 first-round pick on the Alabama product, the Patriots owner is a week removed from reminding reporters that Belichick “is in charge” of his football team. Kraft also said “that’s Bill’s decision” when asked whether New England could make a run at superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Put yourself in Jones’ shoes for a moment. Imagine working out at Gillette Stadium last Monday while hearing Belichick basically say your job isn’t safe. A few hours later, your team’s owner brags about one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks apparently wanting to play in New England. Then, on Tuesday, you read a very specific report about Belichick shopping you in trade talks. You then remind yourself that, only two weeks ago, you were sitting in the second row at Devin McCourty’s retirement ceremony while the legendary Patriots safety, with Kraft and Belichick, seated nearby, called you a franchise leader.
Unless this is much ado about nothing, Jones can’t be happy. And let’s not forget he’s only a half-year removed from getting booed off his own field by out-for-blood Patriots fans.
Now consider Belichick’s perspective. You’re closing in on Don Shula’s all-time wins record but you’re 25-26 in the post-Tom Brady era and your boss is turning up the heat on your seat for the second consecutive offseason. The “you can’t win without Tom Brady” narrative has taken hold nationally and locally, and only a Super Bowl title might reverse it. Your job security might be tied to the performance of an unproven quarterback who was borderline insubordinate at times in 2022.
It doesn’t take a tin-foil hat to wonder whether Belichick would rather move on from Jones and make a change at quarterback. Florio’s report took care of that.
So, is this fixable? Can Jones and Belichick reconcile their differences and get their marriage off the rocks and back to where it was in 2021? Will a heartfelt, good-faith meeting between the two — if it hasn’t already happened — solve everything?
Only they know that. But even if Jones stays in Foxboro and everyone says the right things publicly, this topic isn’t going anywhere. Jones and Belichick both will be asked about it when OTAs start in seven weeks. The questions will continue when the Patriots start training camp in late July. And both of their futures in New England will be the top storylines next season.
Perhaps it would be best for the Patriots to rip the proverbial Band-Aid and start over with a different quarterback. Maybe Zappe is the answer.
That’s not to say there isn’t precedent for teams and quarterbacks sticking it out after immense offseason drama and speculation.
Tom Brady reportedly was done with the Buccaneers last offseason and wanted to join the Miami Dolphins before ultimately returning to Tampa Bay after his fake retirement. Last May, Kyle Shanahan admitted the 49ers were trying to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, who wound up returning for another season in San Franciso. And there are other examples.
Those situations aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons for what Jones is going through with the Patriots, but you get the idea. Things can change quickly in the NFL.
Nevertheless, the idea of Jones leaving New England no longer is pure fantasy. He reportedly is on the trade block, and there might be no turning back for the Patriots.