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NFL Notes: Unfortunately, it was time for Mac to go

After a promising rookie season, Mac Jones and the Patriots failed to progress and ultimately it was time for both sides to move on.

Former Patriots QB Mac Jones
Former Patriots QB Mac Jones

The Patriots did not do much to help the development of Mac Jones over the past two seasons.

Mac Jones did not play well or handle things properly over the past two seasons.

Both things can be true. And that can be the case without the issue turning into a raging debate over who was more at fault for Jones' demise in New England.

The Patriots and Jones parted ways just before the new league year is set to kick off March 13. According to ESPN, New England sent the embattled quarterback to Jacksonville in exchange for a sixth-round pick. In the end, the resolution of the situation seems just about right: The Patriots allowed Jones the opportunity to resurrect his career elsewhere as they prepare to begin a new era in Foxboro.

Jones deserves the chance to move away from what had become a toxic environment for all involved. Bill Belichick's decision to follow up a promising rookie season by putting a lifetime defensive coach, Matt Patricia, in charge of the offense was the beginning of the end. Animosity began during that offseason and carried into the 2022 campaign, and the lack of production on offense only made the situation worse. By the time Bill O'Brien arrived to try to salvage things, the damage had been done and the offense sunk to even lower depths.

On the surface, Belichick's odd choice of Patricia as offensive coordinator is certainly worth criticism – and he received plenty of it both as it happened and since. But Jones also never gave the unconventional set up a chance, immediately fought back against it and subsequently alienated members of the team and coaching staff along the way.

The lasting image of that 2022 season would have to include an exasperated Jones throwing his hands up in disgust multiple times – seemingly letting the world know how much he disagreed with various coaching decisions.

Those outbursts, coupled with increasingly sinking performances, caused Jones to lose confidence among his teammates and at that point it seemed to be a matter of time. When O'Brien arrived last offseason, there was some optimism that things would improve. But Jones' malaise continued, culminating with back-to-back benchings in Germany against Indy and at the Giants in November.

He never took another snap for the Patriots.

Wide Receiver Demario Douglas
Wide Receiver Demario Douglas

The lack of production by no means falls solely on Jones' shoulders, though. Belichick and the front office did little to provide him with the protection and weapons necessary to be a successful offense. His top wideout wound up being a rookie sixth-round pick out of Liberty in DeMario Douglas. A revolving door up front caused him to perform under pressure in most games, and soon his pocket presence suffered as a result.

The once poised rookie who operated calmly from the pocket was now constantly affected by the pass rush – real or imagined at times – and the turnovers came in bunches. When he closed the first half of the Giants loss with another pick, Bailey Zappe replaced him for good.

The fact that the offense fared no better with Zappe illustrated the larger offensive issues, however. While Zappe showed better pocket presence and mobility, extending some plays to hit on a couple of deep throws later in the down, the overall results were virtually the same and showed the real problems were about much more than the quarterback.

So, that's ultimately how Jones and the Patriots landed in the position they were in. Belichick is now gone and the new regime certainly seems to be poised to select a quarterback at No. 3 in next month's draft. It only makes sense to allow Jones the opportunity to reset – and he gets to do it in his hometown – while Jerod Mayo and Eliot Wolf look to the future with a new potential franchise quarterback.

It's a disappointing end to the three-year run, but it's one that was inevitable based on the past two seasons.

Early action

The 48-hour legal tampering period included a deal for the Patriots, as New England reportedly agreed to its first move. NFL Network reported the team has a three-year contract in place with former Washington running back Antonio Gibson. But the report that garnered the most interest happened a few hours later when another Washington player, Jacoby Brissett, reportedly agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Any and all signings agreed to during the two-day period cannot become official until the start of the new league year on March 13 at 4 p.m. but the indications are that Brissett and Gibson will be added to the Patriots offense. According to ESPN Gibson's three-year deal is worth a base of $11.25 million with a maximum value of $17.25 million and $5.3 million guaranteed.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett

Brissett, a third-round pick of the Patriots back in 2016, will be joining his fifth team in five years after stints in Indy, Miami, Cleveland and Washington. At this stage he's proven to be best suited as a backup, but his real value may be in the quarterback room helping to mentor a rookie. Brissett has an impeccable reputation as a teammate, and Wolf and Mayo no doubt want to lean on that professionalism to help develop the next potential option.

On the field the Patriots shouldn't expect much. Brissett is 18-30 as a starter and never enjoyed a winning season. He does generally protect the football, though, with a 51-23 touchdown-interception ratio in 79 career games. It's possible that Mayo will lean on Brissett as the starter to open the 2024 season but depending on the results in the draft that's certainly no guarantee.

Running Back Antonio Gibson
Running Back Antonio Gibson

Gibson is a versatile back with production as both a runner and receiver. Known more as a pass catcher, Gibson did turn in a 1,000-yard rushing season in 2021 and registered 11 rushing touchdowns as a rookie in 2020. The bulk of his production came as a receiver, though, where the former Memphis wide receiver topped 40 receptions in each of the past three seasons for the Commanders.

In 2023 Gibson started just two of the 16 games in which he appeared and was used infrequently as a runner as Washington turned things over to Brian Robinson. Gibson finished with 65 attempts for 265 yards and a touchdown – all career lows. As a receiver it was a different story as he registered career highs with 48 catches for 389 yards and added a pair of touchdowns. In a November win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, Gibson caught five passes for 42 yards in the Commanders 20-17 victory.

Gibson should serve as a solid third-down option behind starter Rhamondre Stevenson. At 25, he also offers a younger replacement to Ezekiel Elliott, who ably served in the backup role a year ago after signing during training camp. Gibson offers more explosiveness than Elliott and should provide a nice safety valve for whoever winds up playing quarterback in 2024.

The Patriots also signed veteran offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor just before the tampering period opened. Okorafor made 59 career starts for Pittsburgh, most coming at right tackle. He should provide experienced depth at a spot the roster sorely lacks, and he may allow the newly re-signed Mike Onwenu to remain at his preferred spot of right guard.

Extra points

One minor development of the early offseason that I felt represented a welcomed change was the news that the Patriots were set to release DeVante Parker. Parker was given an extension last summer, meaning it cost the team some extra cap dollars to move on, but from a football perspective it was the right call. The team needs to upgrade the receiver room with more explosiveness in order to fulfill Wolf's wish to "weaponize" the attack, and Parker certainly didn't fit into those plans. Not an easy move but hats off to Wolf for making a wise decision.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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