He won't say it anytime soon, or maybe ever, but Josh McDaniels has to be ecstatic after the Patriots came out of the draft with Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Universally among all Patriots, including McDaniels, there continues to be an enormous amount of respect for Cam Newton. This isn't about him. He provided fantastic leadership last year, and will continue to do so as long as he's the starting quarterback.
"Cam's our quarterback," Bill Belichick said in the wee small hours of Friday morning after the first round concluded. "Whatever position, whatever time Jarrett [Stidham] or Mac [Jones] are ready to challenge and compete, then we'll see how that goes. But right now, Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him."
Of course Belichick is going to say that, and he should. Nothing grinds my gears more than an NFL team handing a rookie anything before he has proven himself capable of even finding the facility with Waze to guide him. In fact, I called out former Bills general manager Doug Whaley for doing just that in the 2016 NFL draft, and we went toe-to-toe over it (Whaley's a good guy and talent evaluator, but those Bills were always getting ahead of themselves).
Jones hasn't proven anything yet and until he does, he's not entitled to anything. Although, I'm not crazy about him saying in Stidham-like fashion: "I mean, it's (Newton's) show and I'm just there to support him." (I half expected him to say, "I'm just happy to be here.")
Uh, no you're not. You're here to compete every day. Say that next time, please. Have someone tell you how No. 12 would have handled that question, and what he said to Robert Kraft the first day on the grounds ... start there.
But we digress. The reason why McDaniels has to have an extra bounce in his steps around One Patriot Place is that finally, after a year of spooning out the remedial version of his offense to Newton and Stidham, and failing to make any progress over the course of 16 games and 17 weeks, the Patriots now have a quarterback who will, at some point soon, be able to understand the advanced calculus that really makes this system go (by the way, can they bring back Brian Hoyer to speed up Jones' progress ... it would not be a bad idea). Newton, for all his goodness, just never came close to getting there last season, and it's dubious he ever will, as we wrote about a month ago:
3. Master the Patriots’ playbook and adjustments: This is probably the biggest factor, and the reason why New England will keep a light on for Garoppolo (or a rookie QB like him, it turns out).
You can say the Patriots should adjust and tailor their scheme to Newton. That’s fine and dandy, but at some point in time — probably several times — Newton is going to have to be a dropback passer and shred the opponent. You can’t do that rolling out consistently. You can’t do that using playaction and read-option fakes. You just have to get into the shotgun, decode the defense and get the right target the ball on time.
And this is by far Newton’s biggest weakness, and I’m not sure he can master it. In addition to hours spent working on his mechanics, Newton also needs to take hours each day working on the Patriots’ system. He should be moving into Brian Hoyer‘s house and paying him to tutor him. There’s that much work to be done.
There will be much excitement and talk about what the Patriots can do with their weapons, how the two or three (with Devin Asiasi) tight ends – to say nothing of an athletic fullback like Dan Vitale or Dalton Keene — could be huge match up issues for defenses and those matchups will dictate what play the Patriots run.
It makes sense in theory. Put safeties against the tight ends, the Patriots will run it down your throat. Put linebackers out there, look out for the passing game. That’s the way it worked here before. People are kind of forgetting that Brady orchestrated all that. Brady would see what the defense was doing, make the checks, move people around, and attack the opponent.
Even by the end of last season, Newton wasn’t even close to doing that.
Newton had a lot of trouble diagnosing the defense and what might happen before the snap. That led to show decision-making and late throws after the snap.
The entire New England offense is predicated on the quarterback diagnosing the defense before the snap, and then getting the Patriots into the proper play and matchups to take advantage of that defense. There’s only so much Josh McDaniels can do with the playcall. At some point, Newton has to help himself. There is very little faith around the league that will happen because that’s never been in his arsenal.
Newton better be using all avenues at his disposal to get up to speed in this area this offseason, or the Patriots’ offense will not work.
No pressure, Cam. The whole thing is just riding on you … as of now.
By the way, we got our answer on the question about whether or not Belichick and the Patriots were intrigued by a player with Newton's profile in this offense ... they weren't. They easily could have traded up and drafted Justin Fields, who fell to 11th before the Bears traded up for him, if the Patriots wanted to go that route ... instead they went back to the kind of pocket QB that was fairly successful for 20 years. That tells you all you need to know about the Newton on-field experience ... the Patriots gave it a hard pass.
And they should have. Rock-bottom hit in the blowout loss to Garoppolo and the 49ers when Newton just could not properly operate this offsense, and I used nine plays with video to illustrate the issues. It never improved consistently for the rest of the season.
Enter Jones, who's known as a football savant in Tuscaloosa — he already graduated and earned his master's degree — to the point he was teaching former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien the Alabama offense this spring.
"He’s smart, he’s going to know the offense inside out," Nick Saban said at the pro day to reporters. "He makes quick decisions he’s got great judgment, and he’s very accurate with the ball. I think the combination of those things is going to make him a fine player to the next level.”
Yes, there are a lot of easy throws and great scheme in Crimson Tide offense. But one play (and we'll break down most of the SEC title game as well) in the national championship game against Ohio State illustrates how Jones can quickly restore the Patriots' offense to its former complicated glory and use its baked-in tools to his advantage. Even announcer Gary Danielson didn't fully comprehend what he was seeing, and how Jones' eyes and knowledge of the defense and his own scheme made the play — not a personnel mismatch: