Patriots’ Bill Belichick turns back clock, naming Mac Jones Week 1 starter

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

The parallels between Tom Brady and Mac Jones’ New England Patriots ascension run thick, an Eagles tight end might be on the move — just not the one you’d expect — and much more inside this week’s Between The Hash Marks.

By making one of the most forward-thinking moves of the NFL offseason, the New England Patriots seem to be turning back the clock, after naming first-round pick Mac Jones the Week 1 starting quarterback and releasing Cam Newton Tuesday.

While Bill Belichick’s decision to pull the plug on a former MVP and jumpstart the Jones era in Foxboro surprised many outsiders, coaches and executives across the league greeted Tuesday’s news with a knowing nod.

“Mac’s a very accurate and very anticipatory passer,” an NFC head coach tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak on players on other teams. “He’s only an average athlete … But, then again, so was Tom Brady. We all saw how that worked out.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that we once lived in a world where similar things were said about Brady, who as a sixth-round pick in his second season was little more than a game-manager. But, that was the world in 2001, as Brady completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,843 yards with 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions after replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe, leading New England to its first of six Super Bowls and altering the course of NFL history forever.

What made that 2001 Patriots team so successful — in addition to Brady’s clutch performance throughout the postseason — was a defense that allowed only 15 touchdowns, and held opponents to just 17 points per game.

Belichick and the Patriots seem to be aiming for history repeating itself with Jones, the 6-foot-3 and 200 pound quarterback out of Alabama who showed he has the arm strength to make every throw on the route tree during three preseason games, the consistency to put together lengthy and time-consuming scoring drives, and at times had the pocket-presence of a seasoned veteran while working with New England’s first-team offense this summer.

Jones’ ascension to the starting job, and first opportunity to emerge as Brady’s heir apparent in Foxboro one year after his departure for Tampa Bay where he led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship, caps an offseason that saw the Patriots invest significant resources on offense.

Dropping Jones into a supporting cast that now includes tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, as well as burgeoning slot receiver Nelson Agholor, in a system that has been tailor made to his best traits could catapult the second-chapter of Belichick’s legacy.

“I think this move is all about Bill elevating their passing game to NFL standards,” former NFL executive of The Year Randy Mueller tells FanSided. “It wasn’t there last year. Now, Josh McDaniels has a firm platform to expand the game plan in the passing game over a 17-game season.

“They really were cap-strapped last year, and they really upgraded at tight end and receiver. The passing game is going to really improve going with Mac over Cam.”

In his three preseason appearances, Jones 92.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus was second highest among all passers this summer.

“He’s probably the least-mobile out of all the [rookie] quarterbacks, and that may be something that works in his favor,” former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Charlie Batch told me during a recent appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “He’s able to sit in the pocket, deliver the football down the field … they can say ‘we can carve out this offense, because we’re used to what this offense can look like with a quarterback like him leading it.’”

The through-lines that run between Brady replacing an injured Bledsoe continue with the opening that was left cracked by Newton’s decision not to take the COVID-19 vaccination, despite the health and professional risks that accompanied his choice.

Perhaps one day decades in the future, Patriots fans will gather in over Samuel Adams’ in a Boston watering hole reminiscing over Newton being forced to quarantine for five days after he underwent a COVID-19 test away from the team facility, thus violating protocols and forced to quarantine for five days.

Jones stole the job that week, at one point completing 34-of-40 passes in joint practices with the NY Giants and very clearly earning the trust of Belichick, McDaniels, and the Patriots.

Newton, on the other hand, could no longer be relied upon … At least in part because he is not vaccinated.

The potential, if Newton remained on the roster, was that a vaccinated Jones could test positive for COVID-19. And, because Newton isn’t vaccinated, he would be deemed a close contact which would force the Patriots to play an emergency quarterback.

That kind of lack of personal accountability has no place in “The Patriot Way.”

As Newton faces an uphill climb to find another job as an unvaccinated player who must isolate before taking any unperson visits, Jones is now the new Patriots Wunderkind.

“I’ll say this … Mac Jones is a really good football player,” a current NFL offensive coordinator tells FanSided. “I liked him a lot coming out.”

Clearly, the Patriots do, too.

Eagles’ tight end about-face

Tight end will be among the most coveted positions on the waiver wire in the coming days as teams look to mine reliable pass-catchers for young quarterbacks, identify some stopgap options to get through early-season injuries, or simply upgrade the offense.

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has been the subject of persistent trade rumors throughout the offseason, but as roster cuts have been made and another offseason milepost is in the rearview, it seems increasingly likely Ertz will return to the City of Brotherly Love for his ninth NFL season.

But, don’t be surprised if Eagles general manager Howie Roseman winds up moving one of Philadelphia’s other tight ends … Dallas Goedert.

Trading Goedert, the No. 49 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and a favorite of former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson would signify a complete exorcism of the franchise’s only Super Bowl winning coach’s influence.

According to multiple league sources, Roseman discussed moving Goedert in a trade with the Vikings before Minnesota over on to acquire Chris Herndon in a deal with the Jets.

There’s a belief inside the league that if the Eagles ultimately wind up trading for Deshaun Watson, that Goedert could be a piece of the package Roseman offers the Texans for the embattled quarterback.

Ertz is a respected locker room leader, played a vital role in the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory catching the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, and if Roseman is truly open to moving Goedert, Ertz has the chance to be a favorite target of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts in an offense built around speed and youth on the perimeter.



"“There’s a chance that if our stadium’s not ready to host the Packers in Week 1, where might that game be? There’s a chance that game could be right here at AT&T Stadium,” Payton said. “… We think that would something that’s very realistic.”"

– New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, on the possibility of spending a month away from Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida

Thankfully, on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall over New Orleans, the city’s levee system held and the catastrophic loss of life that substorm wrought on the bayou was avoided as Hurricane Ida followed a nearly identical path on Sunday.

Still, 150 mile per hour winds and torrential rain left their mark on the city and knocked out power to more than one million people across New Orleans.

Football is very clearly secondary, or very significantly lower on the concerns of New Orleans residents and for a time maybe even some Saints players worried about family and property back home as they set up camp in the Dallas Fort Worth area this week and perhaps for the foreseeable future.

The Saints have been here before, spending an entire season away from home in Baton Rouge and San Antonio, so Payton has experience navigating a season on the road. Still, with the Saints scheduled to host the Packers Sept. 12, and Giants Oct. 3, there’s a very real possibility that as the Cowboys kickoff the season on the league’s opening Thursday Night Football extravaganza in Tampa Bay it will be the Flour-De-Lis replacing the star at midfield in Week 1.

New Orleans’ showdown with the Giants could be trickier, perhaps moving that game to be part of a Monday Night Football doubleheader or Houston as the Texans are in Buffalo in Week 4.

Thankfully, and most importantly, the people of New Orleans avoided a worst case scenario this time around. And the Saints being scheduled to be on the road in Weeks 2 and 3 make this less of a logistical challenge than it otherwise could have been for Payton and Co. and the experience of Katrina could be an asset for the head coach as he leads his team on what could be a month-long sojourn away from home.

Final thought

Tua Tagovailoa should request a trade from the Miami Dolphins.

One year removed from the Dolphins choosing Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and being yo-yoed throughout the season splitting time with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami has shown the world just how little they think of their 23-year-old quarterback.

Despite passing for 1,814 yards with 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions in 10 games as a rookie and putting forth a stellar preseason in which he 282 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception while completing 24-of-34 passing attempts, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores have aggressively pursued a trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson, who is facing criminal sexual misconduct complaints as well as 22 civil suits amid credible allegations of sexual assault, is the apple of Grier and Flores’ eye, despite Tagovailoa proving instrumental to the Dolphins winning six of his nine starts a year ago.

If a general manager and head coach are willing to stake their positions and reputations to a quarterback reportedly being investigated by the FBI, and according to Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson wiling to invest three first-round picks and two second-round picks to replace him, there’s no future for Tagovailoa in Miami.

There are plenty of teams around the league with better supporting casts and more steadfast support from the organization who would likely consider Tagovailoa an upgrade over their current situation; from the Washington Football Team to the Denver Broncos, to maybe even the Minnesota Vikings or New Orleans Saints.

If Grier and Flores don’t believe in Tagovailoa, Tua should make them prove it. And let the Watson chips fall where they may.

Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL