Patriots

NFL Combine Day 1 takeaways: QB-needy teams highlight Patriots’ security with Mac Jones

While some teams are talking QBs, the Patriots can address other needs.

Kevin Colbert, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers speaks to reporters during the NFL Draft Combine. Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS – Patriots head coach Bill Belichick famously doesn’t talk publicly at the NFL Combine very often. 

But if there had been a combine the last two seasons, one could almost imagine him fielding the same kinds of questions as the Steelers’ Kevin Colbert or the Broncos’ George Paton faced Tuesday afternoon about their teams’ respective holes at quarterback ahead of a draft that isn’t highly regarded at the position.

A year after passing on both Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft, Paton vowed the Broncos would be “aggressive” in seeking the answer at “the most important position in sports.”

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“We don’t care if it’s free agency. We don’t care if it’s the draft. We don’t care if it’s a trade,” he said. “We’re going to exhaust all options to try to get the best guy for the Broncos.”

Try as he might, though, he didn’t seem terribly convinced Drew Lock, the only quarterback under contract for Denver, or Brett Rypien, was that guy.

Similarly, Colbert didn’t exactly sound set on riding with Mason Rudolph in light of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement even after saying Rudolph is Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback as of this moment.

Both also tried to pump up the reputation of this year’s draft, with Colbert saying he expects “starting-caliber” quarterbacks to emerge from the 2022 class.

But thanks to a bit of good fortune last season, Belichick would probably have projected something more like the confident Jacksonville’s Trent Baalke had when asked about the Jaguars’ outlook with 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

“We feel really good about Trevor, where he’s at as a pro…and feel very confident that with him, we can move forward and build a championship-caliber football team.”

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Why? Because Belichick and the Patriots have a quarterback in Mac Jones. Whether or not he’s the absolute final answer at the position aside, Tuesday’s NFL Combine press availability for coaches and executives clearly highlighted the difference between teams that have established quarterbacks and those that don’t.

For teams like the Broncos, Steelers and Buccaneers, who now are basically hoping against hope Tom Brady comes out of retirement to play for them, the “who will play quarterback?” questions were multiple, seemingly eclipsing all other topics relating to other position groups or aspects of their rosters.

But with squads like the Jaguars, Bills (with Josh Allen), Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes) and even Chicago Bears (Justin Fields), the queries largely centered around how their teams would build around the quarterbacks. (Bills head coach Sean McDermott even talked openly about how Buffalo’s promotion of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was done with Allen’s blessing.)

Though Jones isn’t on the level of an Allen or Mahomes or might not have the upside of Lawrence or Fields, the talk around the NFL Combine media room Tuesday concerning the Patriots took on a similar tone. 

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The Patriots aren’t going into this year’s combine or draft wondering how they’re going to replace Brady or wondering how they’ll improve on Cam Newton’s play in 2021. Their task is how to get better everywhere else and complement what they already have in Jones.

Whatever people might think of Jones’s long-term outlook, it’s hard not to believe New England is far better off with Jones than without him going into 2022 — at least compared to other squads who now face the unknown at the sport’s most valuable position.

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