Most assume that Mac Jones is securely in place as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots in 2023. And that very well may be the case. But is there a reality in which New England moves on from Jones, and if so, where could the third-year former Alabama QB land?
Would the Patriots Move on From Mac Jones?
By the conclusion of his rookie season, Jones appeared to be the answer at quarterback for the Patriots. Then 2022 happened. Without 2021 offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (who had since left to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders) calling the shots, Jones struggled.
In fact, due to poor play and injuries, the Patriots inserted rookie fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe in at quarterback at one point of the season. And at times, the offense looked better with Zappe at the controls.
The pace quickened, momentum flowed, and New England was finally moving the ball up and down the field in a way it couldn’t with Jones under center.
But let’s not get it twisted — Zappe wasn’t flawless. In the rookie’s two full-time starts, both wins, the Patriots put up 29 and 38 points against the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, respectively, and the first-year passer out of Western Kentucky totaled 497 passing yards (248.5 per game), three touchdowns, and one interception.
On the season, Jones, by contrast averaged over 30 fewer yards per game and notched a touchdown to interception ratio barely above .500 (14 to 11). His accuracy also dipped more than two percentage points from his rookie season.
But is all of that enough to justify sending away a player who, one year earlier, was well on his way to establishing himself as a franchise guy?
According to NBC Sports’ Albert Breer, the answer is possibly yes. “I think they would,” Breer responded when asked whether New England would entertain an offer for Jones.
“Internally, I don’t know if they see this massive gap between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. I’m not saying they think Bailey’s as good as Mac, but there was some element of Bailey doing what he was coached to do last year that I think gave Bailey the edge to some degree for a little while there,” Breer explained.
Dishing further on how the Patriots view Jones inside the building, Breer said, “I don’t think Bill [Belichick] appreciated the way that Mac handled some of the stuff last year… There’s a way that I think Bill thinks a franchise quarterback should conduct himself. And for the most part, [Tom] Brady did conduct himself that way. I think there were certain things in the way that Mac handled his second year as a pro that Bill didn’t appreciate.”
While the Patriots would need to have another QB1 in mind before shipping him away, Jones might not be on the firm footing that many would think a former first-round quarterback with a strong rookie season should have. So, if the Patriots were to move on from Jones, where could he land?
Mac Jones Landing Spots That Make Sense
Las Vegas Raiders
All the arrows point here. Jones’ inspiring rookie season came with McDaniels at offensive coordinator. The Raiders have a need at quarterback with Derek Carr off to greener pastures. Raiders’ general manager Dave Ziegler cut his teeth with the Patriots organization for nearly a decade. It all makes sense. But there are still plenty of questions to answer.
Will the Raiders even entertain the idea of trading for Jones before they take a full swing at the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes? Does McDaniels think that he can get Jones back on the right track? How much would New England demand in an offer, and would the Raiders be willing to match that asking price?
“I don’t know how in love the Raiders are with Mac,” Breer admitted. “Like, if you’re talking about getting their first-round pick, I don’t think that’s happening.”
But if McDaniels is convinced that he can rebuild Jones to his rookie form and beyond, there are certainly enough reasons to believe this landing spot makes plenty of sense.
When compiling a list of possible trade destinations for any quarterback with an up-in-the-air status, it only seems logical to start with the teams with the most uncertainty at the position. The Panthers certainly fit that bill.
But there’s more to it with this landing spot. Carolina’s roster is better suited to win immediately than most realize, and newly minted head coach Frank Reich is assembling an all-star staff that is surely chomping at the bit to compete out of the gate.
The defense is young but talented. The offense could use another playmaker, but DJ Moore is one of the most explosive wideouts in the league. If the Panthers’ top brass believes Jones has an untapped ceiling that a stronger offensive staff (think: not Matt Patricia) can unlock, the team might prefer that route than going with a rookie.
This is especially true given where the Panthers sit in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s exceedingly unlikely that Bryce Young or CJ Stroud fall to the Panthers at ninth overall. Maybe Reich and his staff would prefer someone who’s more fit to play right away than risking the necessity of starting a project QB in second-tier guys like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis from day one.
The Washington Commanders have said that Sam Howell is “more than likely” to enter the offseason as the team’s QB1. But is Ron Rivera, a veteran leading man firmly on the hot seat in his second head coaching gig, going to throw all of his eggs in the basket of a second-year fifth-round pick with one start under his belt?
There’s an argument to be made that what we saw out of 2022 Howell was more enticing than what we saw out of 2022 Jones, but there’s also an argument to be made, and a strong one at that, that Jones would provide Rivera a QB who’s already taken their lumps and can win more games from the get-go than Howell.
There was a time during his collegiate career that Howell looked to be one of the higher-end quarterbacks in college football, but there’s a reason he fell to the fifth round. He’ll experience the usual “rookie” struggles over the course of the upcoming season.
Rivera simply might not have the rope to ride out that journey will Howell at QB1.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are in the QB market. That is clear, as the team has already hosted then-Raiders QB and now-free agent Derek Carr for a visit.
If Carr chooses to take his talents elsewhere, Jones could be a strong second option for Dennis Allen and the Saints’ brass. New Orleans doesn’t have a first-round pick, so the team will have to get creative if the Patriots demand top-dollar for Jones.
But New Orleans, with ascending wideout Chris Olave as the team’s top pass catcher, would provide a better offensive environment than Jones worked with during his second year in Foxborough.
With little cap space and few high-end draft picks to work with, the Saints’ quarterback options will be limited in 2023. Jones could provide the answer the Saints are looking for not just next season but beyond.
This one feels like a long shot, but the Tennessee Titans are in a bit of a QB purgatory and don’t seem well-positioned in the draft to find a way out.
Will Ryan Tannehill be back in Nashville? Does the team believe it can develop 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis? Maybe and maybe. But if new Titans GM Ran Carthon decides that the answer to both questions is no, Jones could make sense as a fallback option.
Sitting at 11th overall in the draft and with several QB-needy teams in the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Raiders, and Panthers all certainly or potentially in the QB market, it’s unlikely that the Titans get one of the top-shelf rookies.
If head coach Mike Vrabel believes that all Jones needs to get back on track is a Hall of Fame running back in Derrick Henry and young, upside receiving talents in WR Treylon Burks and TE Chigoziem Okonkwo, we could see Tennessee give ol’ Emperor Palpatine a call.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be completely resetting this offseason, but that doesn’t make Mac Jones a bad fit. In fact, the Bucs may want to see if they can get a young former first-round QB on the cheap as a way of preemptively striking at the game’s most important position instead of searching through the draft and hoping they strike gold.
And even if they wanted to take the rookie route, they’re not positioned highly enough to do so without a massive war chest of a trade offer. At 19th overall, there’s no way the Bucs come away with one of the top three or four passers without sending the farm to another team.
So maybe head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht see Jones as a shortcut towards getting a QB they can build around as the team gets ready for the post-Tom Brady era.
Trade in one former Patriot passer for another? Stranger things have happened.