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Is it over for Mac Jones in New England?

Patriots Mailbag: Is it over for Mac Jones in New England? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots are on bye this week, but it’s business as usual for the ‘Bag.

Was the 2022 draft the worst in recent Patriots history? Has the Mac Jones era in New England run its course? We get to those questions and many more of your Mailbag submissions below:

You’d be surprised, Vik! The Mailbag was overflowing this week…

Given the questions the Patriots had to have had about Mac Jones coming into the season after a rocky Year 2, and given the uncertainty that existed on the offensive line, you could make the argument that not having a more competent backup for Jones was one of the biggest roster-building errors Bill Belichick made going into 2024.

Most backup quarterbacks fall into one of two buckets: 1) Sage veteran who can handle an emergency fill-in role, or 2) Young, developmental player who may be able to start down the road. Seems like the Patriots have neither.

It’s going to have some competition with 2019, Kaos! But the 2022 draft seems to look worse with each passing day. Cole Strange is at least a starter. Tyquan Thornton dressed but didn’t play in Germany, and given how the receiver room is constructed right now that should tell you what they think of where he’s at in his second season. Marcus Jones is on injured reserve and may end up being the best player of this group. It falls off a cliff after that. Jack Jones (released), Pierre Strong (traded), Bailey Zappe (cut, re-signed), Kevin Harris (released), Sam Roberts (healthy scratch last two weeks), Chasen Hines (released) and Andrew Stueber (released) aren’t giving them much of anything as Day 3 lottery tickets.

Getting Strange and Marcus Jones over N’Keal Harry, Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, Damien Harris and Yodny Cajuste probably gives 2019 the edge as the lesser class between the two. Jarrett Stidham looking like a relatively highly-valued backup might help 2019’s cause but I’d still go with 2022 as the better-looking class to this point.

As for Belichick staying as coach and giving up his general manager duties? I can’t see it. Particularly if the Kraft family would like to bring in someone from the outside. Hard for me to envision Belichick being willing to coach players he hasn’t picked.

I think David Andrews has actually been their best offensive lineman outside of Trent Brown. Having him around next year and running the show from the middle of the line would be hugely helpful to whatever quarterback is imported this coming offseason — especially if it’s a young quarterback. This season, per Pro Football Focus, he’s the No. 10 center in the NFL.

It wouldn’t come as a massive surprise if the Patriots opted to bring in a general manager from the outside. Overall talent acquisition, you could argue, has been the team’s biggest issue the last several years. A fresh perspective, someone with a proven track record from a successful organization, might be welcome.

But perhaps ownership, understanding the behind-the-scenes dynamics better than anyone, would be comfortable simply elevating someone from within the department to truly control roster decisions in Belichick’s place. Between director of player personnel Matt Groh, director of scouting Eliot Wolf, director of pro scouting Steve Cargile, director of college scouting Cam Williams and experienced front-office exec Pat Stewart there are plenty of talented minds in the Patriots front office as currently constructed.

This decision — who controls the 53-man roster — might be the most important on the Kraft family’s plate this offseason if they opt to part ways with Belichick.

My feeling is the Mac Jones Era has probably run its course here. As a starter.

Would the team feel as though it wants to keep him as a bridge guy or failsafe in case they can’t land a free agent they like or the draft pick they covet? I could see it. His salary is just $2.8 million for 2024. Signing a starting-caliber free agent — like, say, Baker Mayfield — may require a $20 million investment or more. (Jimmy Garoppolo signed a contract worth just under $25 million this past offseason.) The draft, of course, is always unpredictable.

Jones, therefore, could be back. But I don’t believe the team is going to be looking to depend on him as the locked-in starter in 2024 — whether Belichick is here or not.

All the way from Austria, BFJFTC?!?! Appreciate you. We spoke about this exact scenario on the most recent Next Pats. I’d go with Marvin Harrison Jr. at No. 3, lock in the No. 1 receiver, and then look for a quarterback elsewhere. If LSU’s Jayden Daniels is still on the board early in the second round, his athleticism — and some of the passer’s polish he’s shown with the Tigers of late — would certainly make him worthy of a look in that range.

Good question, Harry. Let’s skew a little more positively for a second here… I think Christian Barmore has been a force over the course of the last two months. In the middle of a lost season, his effort hasn’t waned. Since Week 5, per PFF, he has the seventh-highest pass-rushing grade among interior defensive linemen.

When talking about bright spots, you also have to include Demario “Pop” Douglas. He’s been a revelation in the slot. Does he always know exactly what he’s supposed to do inside? No. But he’s quick, he’s willing to work over the middle, he has strong hands, and he gives the Patriots an after-the-catch playmaker. Among players with at least 40 targets this year, Douglas is third among receivers in yards after the catch per reception.

Tough one, Buckets! Let’s start on the offensive side and go with Tee Higgins. The Bengals probably won’t be keeping him. He’s a true boundary threat, and he’s a guaranteed receiver upgrade in the prime of his career. One thing that might change this? If the Patriots are sitting with the No. 3 pick in the draft by season’s end. That seems to be the slot dedicated to Marvin Harrison Jr. with quarterbacks Drake Maye and Caleb Williams going at No. 1 and 2.

The second choice, to me, is tougher. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones would be worthy of whatever massive contract it’d require to encourage him to sign with New England. Panthers pass-rusher Brian Burns will be one of the highest-paid free agents of the offseason if he’s not tagged in Carolina.

But, unfortunately for the Patriots, their tackle group is so bare for 2024, one of their biggest free-agent signings might have to be a re-signing… Trent Brown? Mike Onwenu? Both? Come on down! If they don’t return, not many clear and obvious answers at tackle. Free-agent-to-be Jonah Williams, from the Bengals, isn’t having a great year and is more of a right tackle than a left tackle. Onwenu seems like just as good a choice, if not a better one. And unless you’re willing to spend a high first-rounder on a left tackle, Brown will likely be the best left tackle available in March.

Let’s go rapid fire on the remaining Bag entries here…

I don’t see it at this point. David Andrews has been good (as noted above). He’s grinding it out as a veteran captain. To bench him in favor of an unknown rookie? I get the merits of it. Taking a fact-finding approach on some of your young draft picks makes sense down the stretch of a lost season. But I think Andrews should be the center again in 2024 so I’m not sure there’s much benefit there.

Additionally, it may hinder the rest of the offense to the point that you don’t get a great look at the others — if you’re taking your fact-finding approach with the entire operation — in the offensive huddle the rest of the way.

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer and I discussed this a bit on Early Edition this week. Adam Peters from San Francisco may be the top general manager candidate on the market this year. The success the Niners have had — especially with some of their later-round draft picks and their aggressive moves for established talent — could make Peters a coveted option. He was with the Patriots from 2003-2008.

Cincinnati senior personnel executive Trey Brown (with New England from 2010-2012) and Pittsburgh assistant general manager Andy Weidl (formerly assisted Howie Roseman in Philly) would be interesting names to keep an eye on as well.

Has to be. What’s interesting is how the end of Belichick’s tenure comes to pass, if it comes to pass. If the Kraft family does not want to part ways until the season is over, how quickly will they have to act to land the general manager they want? Last offseason, the Cardinals requested to interview Monti Ossenfort the day after the regular season ended, and he was hired a week later.

I’m not sure I have a “preferred” trio just yet. But I could see something along these lines…

Head coach: Jerod Mayo

General manager: Adam Peters

Quarterback: Drake Maye

Right now? Like it. Let’s check in on this again in a few months.

If in the top-two picks? Quarterback. If at No. 3? Wide receiver. If at No. 4 or 5? Tackle might be the play at that point.

Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to the Bag this week. Can’t tell you how much we appreciate you all for continuing to have the interest you do in our coverage of this team and its future. Have a tremendous Thanksgiving.

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