Why 2023 will be a critical year for Patriots QB Mac Jones
In 2022, QB Mac Jones’ decline alarmed New England Patriots fans and at least one former Patriots player, who put the blame squarely on offensive play caller Matt Patricia.
“I think his rookie season, he did a great job in a really tough situation with Josh McDaniels as his OC –- which is a really advanced offense,” ex-New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich told Conor Roche of Boston.com about Jones. “So, he has an advanced offense his rookie season and he does really well, probably the best rookie in the draft class. His second year, he regresses.
“I’m not putting that on Mac Jones. I’m putting that on Matt Patricia.”
New England recently hired Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator and QB coach, a hire that will help the offense in general and especially Jones. O’Brien and Jones worked briefly together at Alabama.
If he doesn’t improve under O’Brien, a former NFL head coach, valid concerns could arise that Jones is the problem, not his coaching. The Patriots might be forced to trade Jones or cut him, as they did with Cam Newton, and the process of finding a quarterback would start over again.
If Jones improves under O’Brien, however, a more promising future arises. An extension for the former Alabama star might become plausible, securing the position for years.
The price of a Jones extension is hard to predict because the market for the new wave of young quarterbacks has not been set. Once Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert get their new contracts, a value for Jones will become easier to determine.
To give Jones a fair shot at proving his worth, the Patriots must supply him with more skill weapons. Most of Jones’ key passing stats — including total yards (3,801/2,907), TD passes (22/14) and completion percentage (67.6/65.2) — declined from his rookie season in 2021.
Per spotrac.com, New England has the fourth-most cap space heading into the offseason (roughly $37 million) — more than enough to upgrade the offense, which ranked 26th in yards in 2022.
The Patriots also have the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
New England has already proven its dedication to Jones with the hiring of O’Brien. If HC Bill Belichick adds quality receivers and offensive tackles to the 53-man roster, Jones will have no excuses. Year 3 could determine his NFL future.