Patriots

Mac Jones doesn’t have to be a superstar for the Patriots to flourish again

As Jones begins his second season, Patriots fans should feel encouraged about what his potential might be.

Mac Jones
In just his second pro season, Mac Jones is showing all the signs that he can be an excellent leader for the Patriots. Barry Chin/The Boston Globe


First, the obligatory disclaimer for those among us who have yet to master the obvious:

Mac Jones is not Tom Brady.

Mac Jones will never be Tom Brady.

There will be no next Tom Brady, anywhere, ever, because Tom Brady was a once-in-a-fan’s-lifetime gift.

There. Glad to get that out of the way.

I’m not quite sure why it has become a requirement that, as a prelude to praising Jones and noting some similarities to Brady circa 2002, we must first acknowledge that the Patriots’ second-year quarterback will never approach the achievements of his de facto predecessor.

(I’m excluding that hazy Cam Newton gap year. I’m no longer convinced it actually happened.)

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Brady, it should go without saying, is the most accomplished player the NFL ever will see. And, of course, he’s still going strong, presuming his hiatus from Buccaneers camp isn’t anything more than a legend’s privilege.

He should have won his fourth NFL Most Valuable Player award last season. His career is an almost unfathomable tribute to durability and sustained excellence.

I mean, the guy was drafted by the Patriots 11 days after Carl Everett clubbed two home runs in his Fenway Park debut, and we haven’t thought about Dinosaur Carl in, what, a decade?

For a generation, Brady is the only prolonged frame of reference Patriots fans have regarding the team’s quarterback play. It should not be considered an insult to Brady or some sort of attempt at erasure to suggest that there are important similarities between him and Jones as young quarterbacks.

Jones is poised and accurate. He’s deeply dedicated to improving and competitive to the point of obsession. He’s a natural leader who won over the locker room quickly, always a telltale indicator of how those of us on the outside ought to perceive a young quarterback.

These are all attributes we discovered in Brady more than 20 years ago. And they’re all attributes that should help Jones fulfill his potential as an NFL quarterback.

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As Jones begins his second season, Patriots fans should feel encouraged about what that potential might be. And Patriots fans should feel extremely fortunate that Bill Belichick and the front office snagged Jones with the 15th selection in last year’s draft.

The AFC features a number of extraordinary young or prime-of-career quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, even Derek Carr. Jones may never reach their statistical stratosphere or be a Pro Bowl regular. But it does not require any squinting to visualize him quarterbacking a Super Bowl champion someday.

There are some franchises that waste pick after pick through the years trying to find a competent long-term starter, let alone one capable of helming a champion. OK, I meant the Jets there. You could tell, couldn’t you? The Patriots, meanwhile, got the right guy on their first try, with just one season of QB purgatory after Brady left.

Assorted other variables will factor into whether the Patriots someday add to their Lombardi Trophy collection with Jones as their quarterback. Having a quality starting QB playing on his rookie deal is the biggest boon to roster-building in the NFL, because the team can spend the loot elsewhere.

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The Patriots’ big spending spree came before last season, of course. This offseason was more conservative, though ex-Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker looks like he’ll help the cause.

The current Patriots offense isn’t exactly drawing giddy comparisons to, oh, this point in 2010, when Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Julian Edelman were all on the roster, but there is a nice balance and blend of talent. No superstars, just a half-dozen or more quality skill players.

Jones threw for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, completing 67.6 percent of his passes. He should build on those numbers this year. He’s in better shape, and his knowledge base has expanded.

I mean, at this point a year ago, we were still two weeks from Newton being cut and Jones being named the starter.

He also should benefit from the decision to streamline the offense, which theoretically will make it easier for new players to learn the system and contribute immediately.

Jones and the offense have struggled in camp to implement elements of the Kyle Shanahan playbook, and it remains to be seen whether Jones will face additional difficulty with the Patriots taking what appears to be a perplexing approach to play-calling.

Even if Matt Patricia and/or Joe Judge prove adept at overseeing the offense, they’re certain to be a step down from Josh McDaniels. Save for his occasional bizarre eagerness to call third-and-1 sweeps for Brandon Bolden, McDaniels was a superb offensive coordinator who expertly shepherded Jones through his rookie season.

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There will be times when Jones misses him. But we’re also seeing signs of progress as Jones begins to navigate his sophomore season with new voices in his ear. When the Patriots and Panthers weren’t playing “Mortal Kombat: Joint Practices Edition” the past couple of days, Jones and the offense looked pretty sharp in full-team drills. He’s proving, yet again, that he’s a fast learner who will put the work in to get things right.

Mac Jones may never be a superstar. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility. And this much is certain already: The Patriots can achieve meaningful things with him as their quarterback.

No, he’s not another Brady. As I may have mentioned, no one is or will be again.

But in the post-Brady era, having Mac Jones at quarterback brings stability, and the potential of much more. The Jets must be so jealous.

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