After seeing Mac Jones regress from Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2021 to third-string quarterback by the end of the 2023 campaign, the Patriots, in the first year of the post-Bill Belichick era, are widely expected to select a signal-caller in the upcoming draft. With Caleb Williams likely to be the No. 1 overall pick, New England will have at least one of Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels to choose from when it is on the clock with the No. 3 overall selection. However, ESPN’s Dan Graziano hears that the Pats are open to trading that pick and acquiring more assets to restock a generally weak roster (subscription required).
In that scenario, New England would look to free agency for a quarterback. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield presently top the free agent QB class, though both players could re-sign with their current clubs before the legal tampering period opens. If that happens, the Pats would be picking from a number of backup or bridge types like Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Drew Lock (it should be noted that Russell Wilson is also likely to hit the open market in short order).
A team like New England that is probably at least a year away from contention may be perfectly willing to roll with a stopgap option for one season if that strategy allows them to supplement other areas of need. On the other hand, the 2025 class of collegiate QBs is not shaping up to be an inspiring one, so selecting a player like Maye or Daniels now may prove to be the Patriots’ best course of action, even if the bottom-heavy 2025 crop increases the value of the No. 3 pick in 2024.
If new personnel chief Eliot Wolf and new head coach Jerod Mayo ultimately decide that a trade down makes more sense, then Graziano expects the Falcons, who presently hold the No. 8 overall pick, and the Vikings (No. 11 overall) to have interest. Atlanta, which came close to hiring Belichick as its new HC, has plenty of non-QB talent and could be a quarterback away from being a legitimate contender (though team brass is currently undecided on how it will go about upgrading the position). Minnesota, meanwhile, has already been mentioned as a trade-up candidate, and if the team is unable to agree to a new deal with Cousins by the start of the 2024 league year on March 13, it will be saddled with a $28.5MM dead money charge. Per Graziano, there are some within the Vikes organization that are particularly keen on pairing Daniels with fellow LSU product Justin Jefferson, so New England and Minnesota could line up on a trade if the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is not selected with one of the first two picks in the draft. The Vikings having their QB1 on a rookie deal would certainly help ease the sting of a Cousins departure and his dead money parting gift.
In a piece detailing the quarterback situations of a number of clubs, the NFL.com trio of Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero, and Mike Garafolo believe that the Patriots will try to trade Jones in the coming weeks. The relationship between Belichick and Jones deteriorated over Jones’ first three years in the league, and although Belichick is gone, New England’s new power brokers are seemingly prepared for some sort of reset at the position. Indeed, a change of scenery may benefit both parties.
Mark Daniels of MassLive.com, in an article that is well-worth a read for Pats fans in particular, notes that Jones was (understandably) frustrated with Belichick’s decision to hire Matt Patricia as a replacement for Josh McDaniels in 2022 and to shift to an offensive system different than the one in which Jones thrived in his rookie season. Jones’ resistance to those changes angered Belichick, and the HC-QB dynamic went downhill from there.
Hiring Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator in 2023 did not yield the results that the team hoped for, and Mark Daniels reports that New England staff did not view Jones as a strong enough leader, believing instead that the third-year passer simply “wanted to be one of the guys.” Plus, when the Pats’ offense sputtered, Jones began to freelance and play outside of O’Brien’s system, and as Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal observes, Jones simply lost the locker room.
After he was benched in favor of Bailey Zappe, Jones watched every NFL game he ever played in to see what went wrong, and he ultimately acknowledged that his improvisational tactics were a major reason for the offense’s struggles. Given his status as a 2021 first-rounder and the potential he showed that season, Jones may draw some trade interest, but as Mark Daniels unsurprisingly reports, the Patriots will not exercise Jones’ fifth-year option if he is still on the club by the May 2 deadline to pick up or decline those options.