Three Potential Landing Spots for Mac Jones

Is this premature? Absolutely. Am I going to do it anyway? You bet.

We haven’t seen quarterback drama like this in New England since at least 2017 when the team traded Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco. At that point, the Patriots still had Tom Brady. Mac Jones seemed to be Brady’s heir after the Pats spent a first round pick on him in 2021. New England reached the playoffs and Jones was in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

Oh how things have changed.

Jones opened the season as the unquestioned starter, but suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 that forced him to miss the next three games. Brian Hoyer was supposed to be his short-term replacement, but then the veteran quarterback suffered a concussion during his first start against the Packers.

Enter Bailey Zappe.

The rookie fourth-round pick from Western Kentucky was a bit of a surprise pick by the franchise in this draft, but most viewed him as a developmental prospect who could be a quality backup long term. That has not been the case so far. Zappe nearly upset the Packers in Week 4 coming in to replace Hoyer. He led the Patriots to back-to-back wins over the Lions and Browns, completing 41 of 55 passes for 497 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

Needless to say, fans in New England were ready for Zappe Hour and The Zappening and everything in between. However, Mac Jones was cleared to return for Monday Night Football against the Bears and got the start. Jones didn’t last long though. He attempted just six passes, amassing 13 yards, and was pulled after throwing an interception. Zappe got the offense moving, scoring a pair of touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead. Things went off the rails from there. Chicago went on to win 33-14.

Zappe clearly provided a spark, but it fizzled and it left New England in a tricky spot at quarterback. Belichick dodged questions about who his starting quarterback would be going forward. He said Jones was taken out of the game because he wasn’t healthy. If that was really the case, then why was Jones out there in the first place? This whole situation is a bit bizarre and really casts a shadow over his future with the team.

It certainly appears that Belichick is no longer 100% committed to Jones. He has been underwhelming this season, with just three touchdowns to six interceptions. His passer rating and completion percentage are also down from a year ago.

As I already noted, this is definitely a bit early to talk about Jones no longer being with the Patriots. This would be very early to move on from a first-round pick at quarterback after just two seasons, especially without a change in the front office. Still, stranger things have happened. If Jones does become available, there are a few teams that will definitely be interested.

Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have been searching for a quarterback since Andrew Luck retired. Matt Ryan was the team’s fourth opening day starter in as many years. This team has been searching for a long-term solution, but has only had stop-gap answers. Acquiring Jones could potentially end the carousel at the position.

Now, I can understand why Indianapolis might be hesitant to make this move. The Colts brought in Carson Wentz hoping a change of scenery would bring out the best in a player that looked like an MVP before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2017. That obviously didn’t work out as the Colts shipped him out to Washington after just one season.

The difference here is that Jones is still on his rookie deal. Wentz had already signed a mega extension with a ton of money guaranteed. It makes acquiring Jones a much lower-risk move by comparison. Frank Reich is on the hot seat. I’m not sure he will get another chance with this team, but Chris Ballard has put together a pretty good roster outside of the quarterback spot. Jones could give him a consistent, accurate passer to operate a run-focused offense centered around Jonathan Taylor.

New Orleans Saints
The Jameis Winston experiment in New Orleans has not gone according to plan. His play has been inconsistent, but more importantly, his health has kept him off the field. An ACL injury cost him the remainder of the 2021 season. Now, he is dealing with multiple fractures in his back and a lingering ankle injury. Andy Dalton has fared well in relief, but I can’t imagine that the Saints really believe he could be the long-term answer at quarterback.

Jones has a similar playstyle to Drew Brees and while Sean Payton is no longer the head coach, this is still largely the same staff. Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael had a lot of success with an incredibly accurate quarterback who lacked elite mobility and arm strength. New Orleans has already sunk a lot of draft capital into this team, so I would not be shocked to see them go all in by acquiring an upgrade at quarterback.

Washington Commanders
I already talked about Carson Wentz and how he struggled in Indianapolis. Things have not been much better since he joined the Commanders. His protection was terrible before he suffered a thumb injury that landed him on injured reserve. According to Spotrac, Washington can move on from Wentz this offseason with minimal dead. Releasing him would free up $27 million in cap space. Needless to say, Wentz’s future in D.C. doesn’t look great. I think it is also safe to assume that Washington does not believe in Taylor Heinicke long term. They went out and acquired Wentz despite having Heinicke still on the roster. It feels like this team is poised to look elsewhere this offseason when it comes to the quarterback position.

Jones would certainly need better protection if he were to thrive in Washington, but $27 million would give the Commanders a decent amount to invest in their offensive line. Terry McLaurin would unquestionably be the best receiver Jones has ever worked with and it would be a reunion with his former teammate Brian Robinson. This is another tricky spot with Ron Rivera on the hot seat, but adding a young quarterback on a rookie deal could buy him a bit more time to turn things around in Washington.

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2022 NFL Draft Day 3 Takeaways: Patriots continue to surprise, punters are popular picks and the Ravens plan at receiver

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, the draft is finally here! Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

The Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round just a year ago. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interesting approach in New England continues
The Patriots have made headlines the past few days for shocking everyone with some of their early picks. Saturday didn’t generate any headlines, but it was still a surprising afternoon. New England took Bailey Zappe in the fourth round, ahead of Sam Howell. I supposed the Pats view Zappe, who broke several D-1 passing records at Western Kentucky, as a backup quarterback to Mac Jones. I definitely would have expected Bill Belichick to bring in a veteran to back up Jones. That pick was sandwiched by a pair of running backs. This made absolutely no sense to me. New England has Damien Harris and James White as veteran backs. Rhamondre Stevenson was a third-round selection last year. They also have depth with J.J. Taylor still on the roster. I can’t envision a scenario where the Patriots keep six running backs. White did miss most of this past season with a hip injury, so perhaps this is the end of his time in New England.

A run on punters
Well, that’s probably untrue. It wasn’t so much a run, as much as it was surprising to see two punters selected as early as they were. For the first time since 2007, two punters were selected in the first four rounds. Jordan Stout and Jake Camarda were joined later in the draft by Matt Araiza, the booming punter from San Diego State, and Trenton Gill. That made it the most punters taken in one draft since 2018. Not a huge storyline, but something draft nuts like me are interested in.

Speaking of punters
While the unexpected number of punters coming off the board in the fourth round was fun, it did raise some interesting questions in Baltimore. The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown on Thursday night to acquire a first-round pick, which eventually, following a trade down with the Bills, turned into Tyler Linderbaum. Lamar Jackson was notably unhappy with the decision to move on from Brown and he made it clear on Twitter.

Yeah, definitely not a good sign for the Ravens. Jackson and Brown were very close, so this was obviously tough to swallow. Baltimore could have made it a bit easier to swallow by finding a new receiver for Jackson. However, despite having seven Day 3 picks, including six in the fourth round, the Ravens did not draft a receiver. Before you panic, the Ravens are actually flush with young mid-round receivers. They have taken Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace and James Proche over the past two drafts. That is in addition to taking Rashod Bateman in the first round in 2021. It seems like they are counting on one of them to step up. There are also veterans receivers like Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton and Odell Beckham Jr. still available. I have a feeling that is how Baltimore plans to address the position.

Sam Howell has a chance to start sooner than you might think
The Commanders grabbed Sam Howell with the first pick of the fifth round, stopping the slide for a player that entered the college season as a projected first-round pick. Most quarterbacks taken in the fifth round are not taken with real hopes of starting in the NFL. Strange things happen though. Mike White, a fifth-round pick in 2018, started for the Jets this past season when injuries popped up. Gardner Minshew was a sixth-round pick in 2019. However, I think there is a chance Howell could be in contention to be Washington’s 2023 starter. First of all, he is reunited with one of his college wide outs in Dyami Brown. Second, the Commanders can release Carson Wentz after this season with ZERO dead money. It’s a move that would save the team about $26.1 million in cap space. Now, if Wentz is able to reclaim the form he showed early in his NFL career with the Eagles, this won’t even be a question. But if he struggles again like he did down the stretch with the Colts, this could get interesting, especially if Washington is not in a position to take one of the top quarterbacks in the 2023 draft. Just some food for thought regarding a quarterback I had an early third-round grade on. I think he has starter potential in the league.

Georgia sets a new benchmark
In 2020, 14 LSU players heard their name called, matching Ohio State in 2004 for the most players selected in a seven-round draft. Georgia surpassed that on Saturday. Derion Kendrick and John FitzPatrick went with back-to-back picks in the seventh round to set a new record with 15 players drafted from one school in a single draft. It underscores just how talented the Bulldogs were this season and how much Kirby Smart will have to replace this upcoming season. I have a feeling the Dawgs will be moving up in my Pro Potential Power Rankings.

The Steelers do it again
Pittsburgh made a sixth-round selection that probably didn’t turn too many heads, but continues a fun trend for this Steelers team. They selected Connor Heyward, a fullback out of Michigan State. He is the brother of Cam Heyward, the Steelers’ stalwart defensive tackle. It actually gives the team four sets of brothers on the roster. Just a fun nugget from today’s draft coverage that gives a bit more context and intrigue to the selection of a sixth-round fullback.

The Jets had a good draft
I want to close this out by talking about my team a bit. Part of the reason that I am such a huge fan of the NFL draft is because I’m a Jets fan. When your team is regularly not in the playoffs, you start to think about the future and what could be. Browns and Lions fans know what I’m talking about. There is always hope, followed by bitter disappointment. For the first time in a long time though, I think I might be willing to let myself be optimistic. The Jets crushed this draft on paper. They found value, filled needs and navigated the board with a veteran savvy that felt very out of place given how this team has been run for the past decade. I certainly don’t think the Jets are Super Bowl contenders, but they might actually be a year away from legitimately competing. They rounded out their draft by taking Max Mitchell from Louisiana and Micheal Clemons from Texas A&M. Mitchell has the potential to kick inside in the NFL, which would fill a need for the Jets. Meanwhile, Clemons brings some pass rushing depth to the roster.

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