Did you see the picture Devin McCourty posted to his Instagram page last week featuring himself, Tom Brady, and Mac Jones hanging out at a party?
It was a heartwarming pic for Patriots fans, to see the team’s past spending time with its present, and hopefully sharing some of that championship wisdom from big brother to little brother.
But that’s not the reason the photo is so fascinating. Principally, it provides more context to the goings-on at 1 Patriot Place, and the power dynamics between the Krafts and Bill Belichick.
Robert Kraft already made it clear in March that he wants the Patriots to make the postseason and win a playoff game for the first time in five years. He also paid Jerod Mayo handsomely to keep him off the coaching market and likely views him as the team’s coach-in-waiting. And Belichick’s friends have privately said they are worried that he is on the hot seat in 2023.
On top of all that, Belichick has to dance carefully around his young quarterback. Evidently, Jones is in pretty tight with the Krafts — perhaps tighter than Belichick is.
First, the photo. It is uncaptioned, and therefore unclear about when and where it occurred. But it seems likely that it was taken at Kraft’s party in the Hamptons last weekend.
Dave Matthews played the shindig, and Brady and McCourty were among the attendees, per the Post. And neither Brady nor Jones were wearing white, which was the dress code at Rubin’s party.
I asked McCourty on Monday if the photo was taken at Kraft’s party, and he responded, “Details not important lol.”
So let’s take that as a “yes.”
Two of the invitees are understandable. Brady won six Super Bowls for Kraft and increased the value of his team by billions. McCourty was a 12-year captain who won three Super Bowls. They get seats at the Kraft table for life.
But Jones? Already getting the invite to the Hamptons after two mediocre seasons with the Patriots?
It’s why the question of “How is Mac Jones viewed inside the Patriots?” is difficult to answer. It depends on whom you ask —the coach or the owners.
The coach, Belichick, seems to have lukewarm feelings for Jones. It began in 2021, when Belichick drafted Jones at No. 15 only after Jones fell in his lap. It felt like a gesture from Belichick to the Krafts, who needed a young, franchise quarterback to make everyone forget about the embarrassment of 2020, when Brady won the Super Bowl in Tampa while Belichick and Cam Newton led a boring Patriots team to a 7-9 record.
The Belichick-Jones relationship got off to a solid start in 2021, but went sideways in 2022, as the Patriots struggled to 8-9 and Jones’s stats dipped across the board. Jones didn’t seem to appreciate being led by inexperienced offensive coaches (Matt Patricia and Joe Judge), and Belichick didn’t seem to appreciate Jones’s emotional outbursts, or Jones reportedly going behind Belichick’s back for advice on how to fix the offense.
It’s why this spring, Jones spoke about a “fresh start” and “earn[ing] the respect of everybody in this building again.” It’s why Belichick wouldn’t even say Jones’s name during several media availabilities this spring, and when he eventually did, it was only to praise Jones as a hard worker, “like all players that are in here every day.” Nothing about how great Jones is as a quarterback, or how ready he is to take off in his third season.
Belichick’s tepid responses were understandable. In two years, Jones hasn’t proved much. He has just one comeback win in 31 starts. He’s 4-8 in December and January with no playoff wins. He finished 26th of 33 qualifying quarterbacks last year in passer rating (84.8). And he showed up his coaches on several occasions. If Jones doesn’t pick up his game in 2023, Belichick may be ready to look for another future quarterback.
But it may not be Belichick’s decision, either. He may not love Jones, but the owners seem to.
I had a brief interaction with Jonathan Kraft this spring, and it was clear that he passionately defends and protects Jones. Now, Jones is apparently getting the invite to the Hamptons to party with both Robert and Jonathan. Jones appeared to be one of the few, if not only, current Patriots to get an invite.
Why would the Krafts already make Jones Their Guy despite him having accomplished so little? One answer could be that the Krafts want Jones to succeed to help their own legacy.
For all the talk about how winning one more Super Bowl could fill the final hole in Belichick’s résumé — to silence the “He only won with Brady” detractors — the same dynamic is at play for the Patriots owners.
They had mud on their faces when Brady skipped town and they had no succession plan at quarterback. If Jones can lead the Patriots back to prominence, the Krafts will look like geniuses again — men who have the secret sauce for picking quarterbacks and building stable, winning franchises. But if Jones flops, we can add the Krafts to the list of those who were propped up by Brady’s unexpected greatness.
So they are invested in Jones succeeding. Belichick, meanwhile, barely wants to say Jones’s name in public.
Which means things could get interesting if Jones and Belichick don’t click better in 2023.
Belichick may have to play nice with Jones this year, if he wants to stick around for 2024 to coach his 50th NFL season and break Don Shula’s record for coaching victories.
One person seems to truly have the backing of ownership, and it’s not the head coach.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.