CLEVELAND — Mac Jones isn’t much of a runner, but he clocked the fastest time of the draft on Thursday night.
When Roger Goodell called Jones’s name as the Patriots’ selection with the 15th pick, Jones practically sprinted from his green room to the stage to get his new jersey and chat with Goodell about his new team.
“We were just talking about how that’s going to be a good fit,” Jones said of joining the Patriots. “I was excited to get my hat and my jersey and get this thing going. Maybe I was sprinting. It was exciting.”
Bill Belichick practically sprinted to the podium to announce the pick, too, wasting little time to turn in Jones as the pick.
Time will tell if Jones, the fifth quarterback selected in the first round, will be any good. History suggests only two of the first five QBs drafted will be successful in the NFL.
But Belichick at least took the plunge at quarterback, which is cause for celebration. This wasn’t like in past years, when Belichick laughed at what outsiders perceived as his biggest need and instead took a safety or an offensive lineman. Belichick got his fan base what it wanted most — a first-round quarterback that can potentially hold down the position for years to come.
Belichick had never used a first-round pick on a quarterback in 21 previous years with the Patriots, and in five years with the Browns. But quarterback was the Patriots’ most glaring need, they finally had a pick high enough to get one of the top prospects, and Belichick made sure he got one.
“It’s going to be awesome,” a weary and hoarse-sounding Jones said Thursday night. “I feel like I got drafted by a great organization, and I’m just looking forward to going in there and working hard, learn from a great quarterback room, and then taking coaching from great coaches.”
Most importantly, Belichick didn’t have to give up anything to get Jones. Belichick sat patiently as three quarterbacks went off the board in the first three picks. He didn’t panic when the Bears traded ahead of him and took Justin Fields at No. 11.
The 49ers gave up two first-round picks to get Trey Lance at No. 3, and the Bears traded first-round picks this year and next for Fields. But the Patriots now have their future quarterback, and all of their picks for this year and next.
“I met with a lot of different teams, but I was always fired up to be with the Patriots and talk football with coach [Josh] McDaniels,” Jones said.
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said in February that Jones would be a good fit for the Patriots. Jones is a classic pocket quarterback who doesn’t make many plays with his feet, but he threw for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions last year at Alabama while completing 77.4 percent of his passes. Jones also won a national championship last season, and he was coached by Nick Saban, one of Belichick’s most trusted friends.
“What are the two most important components of a star quarterback? They have the ‘it’ factor. And they’re accurate. That’s who he was,” Weis told SiriusXM.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout, also said in March that Jones would be a great fit for the Patriots and should be able to handle the volume of information thrown at him by McDaniels.
“He’s not just smart, he’s ‘pretty special’ smart,” Nagy said on WEEI. “You see how quickly he makes decisions and processes. He doesn’t get confused and the game happens so slow for him. That’s the upside in Mac Jones. For him to come in and be under Josh, I know they like to switch things up every week, that is why I think Mac would be a great fit.”
Jones’s selection probably wasn’t welcome news in the homes of Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, who are now operating on borrowed time in Foxborough. Jones, who turns 23 in September, was considered one of the more NFL-ready quarterbacks in the draft. Newton will likely have the leg up at the start of training camp, but Jones is making more money — $16 million guaranteed over four years, compared with $3.5 million guaranteed for Newton this year — and Jones is the Patriots’ hand-picked quarterback.
If Newton does start in Week 1, he’s just keeping the seat warm until Jones is ready, though Jones is doing his best to be magnanimous about it.
“Just looking forward to kind of playing my role and being a great teammate,” Jones said. “Kind of being like the freshman again and helping those guys out in any way possible.”
Jones’s selection probably wasn’t welcome news for Jimmy Garoppolo, either. With the 49ers drafting Lance, New England would have been a good landing spot for Garoppolo. Instead, the Patriots took themselves out of the Garoppolo derby by selecting Jones, who will be under contract for at least four years (plus a fifth-year option) at a fraction of the price. Jones will make $4 million per year, while Garoppolo is on the books for $25 million in 2021.
Garoppolo now has to deal with a quarterback controversy in San Francisco, assuming the 49ers keep him (which they say they will). Garoppolo may start in Week 1, but he’s going to feel the pressure and hear it from 49er fans every time he throws an incompletion or commits a turnover.
Jones certainly comes with risk. He started only 17 games at Alabama, and only had one standout season. He doesn’t make plays with his feet. Jones also played with so much talent — the Crimson Tide had five players selected in the top 17 picks — that it’s tough to gauge how good Jones really is. His receivers were always open, his protection was always perfect, and he also got the best coaching in college football.
Those are worries for another day. Thursday night, all that mattered was that Belichick recognized his need at quarterback, and made the pick.
A year after losing Tom Brady, the Patriots finally have a long-term plan at quarterback again.
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