Phil Perry

Is Mac Jones still salvageable? Two MVP quarterbacks believe so

Is there a path to Mac Jones finding success, and can it happen in New England?

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LAS VEGAS -- Would the Patriots ever bring Mac Jones back for his fourth and final season of his rookie contract?

There may not be all that much mutual interest in that kind of setup for 2024 between the two parties involved. Team sources have indicated that Jones had a crisis of confidence in 2023, which led to him losing his starting job, and his ability to lead was questioned. Sources close to Jones have expressed doubt that Jones will be in New England for next season.

There is history that may be too difficult for Jones, the Patriots, and the players in the locker room at One Patriot Place to get past. There are emotions involved that may not make a return for the 2021 first-rounder feasible.

But there are folks who look at Jones from afar and see a player who still has the potential to be an impactful player at the sport's most important position.

"I want to see Mac in a better space," Steve Young told 98.5 The Sports Hub this week. "Whether it’s there or somewhere else, I want him in a better-protected space where he has a better chance to go show who he can be.

"I have a lot of confidence in Mac, despite the fact that a lot of people in Boston are probably done with Mac. So that’s just somebody who sent me some smoke signals. I think Mac, if he can get the proper help and the innovation and the protection, I really believe in Mac, I still do."

Young looked at what Jones was surrounded by in his second season, with Matt Patricia coordinating the offense and calling plays, and identified that as the Patriots not setting Jones up for success.

"I can understand why people are down because it looked bad," Young said. "But what I’m saying is, the coaching situation, and look when you take a defensive coach and throw him in and have him call plays and it’s just... it’s not right. It's not right.

"I thought Mac in many ways showed me that season, like everyone in the world knew this was just a crap show, right? Like, what? But Mac kind of stood in. It was the next year where things started to really go haywire, and I think it just gets too much and I can understand that.

"I’m not against that Mac might be in a space now where he can’t put it back together. There’s something about how he handled that season that was just... I remember we had a Monday night game that year, and I caught him for a second, and I just said, 'I’m so sorry. Because as a quarterback who was in Tampa Bay and went 2-14, like, I’ve been where you are and I’m so sorry. And I hope that you can get to a space where this changes.'"

Jones' former security blanket in the Patriots offense, Jakobi Meyers, also explained how disappointed he was to see how the last year went for his old teammate.

"Honestly, man, I really don't like it," Meyers, now with the Raiders, told Next Pats. "And this isn't a knock to [Bailey Zappe] because Zap is a dog, too. I'm like my boy. I'm happy he's doing well, too. But, man, how that went down went down with Mac -- I watched it all unfold the last couple years -- and I feel like you could've seen it a couple years ago and tell it would end up bad.

"I don't like selling people out, but I think they had to meet him a little bit more. I know he's in the building working. I can't name too many people working harder than him. I hate to see it for him. I really do."

🔊 Next Pats Podcast: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jakobi Meyers on what happened with Mac Jones | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Meyers clarified what he meant by the Patriots needing to "meet" Jones.

"Help him," he explained. "Talent. Coaching. You name it. Just putting him in a better position to win would've helped their program a lot."

The Patriots may be beyond that point now. Jones may be more of a cautionary tale for the Patriots and their brass than a true reclamation project.

But the team did just turn over its coaching staff. The broken relationship between Jones and Bill Belichick set a low bar for new head coach Jerod Mayo and Jones to clear.

Additionally, New England has hired an offensive coaching staff that -- in theory -- could be interested in Jones' skill set. Under new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, the team is expected to be running a version of the offense Van Pelt helped coordinate over the last four years under Kevin Stefanski. It's a scheme derived from Stefanski's time with Gary Kubiak, who was a longtime assistant of Mike Shanahan and at one point employed Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in Houston.

As one league source put it, Van Pelt having worked for Stefanski "is about as close to Shanahan as you can get without being in the Shanahan tree."

Why is that relevant? Shanahan wanted Jones ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he considered drafting Jones with the No. 3 overall pick that year before ultimately opting for Trey Lance.

"I knew before we [traded up to No. 3] how I felt about the quarterbacks and how good we would be to take them at 12,"  Shanahan told the I Am Athlete podcast. "There were two that I really wanted ... Mac Jones and Trey. Those were the two guys that we were locked in on from the beginning."

So, would a coach running a similar scheme see in Jones what Shanahan once saw? Even if it's as a backup option to a highly-drafted quarterback?

"I think he's salvageable, there's no question about it," former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon told 98.5 The Sports Hub. "He was 10-7 as a rookie with Josh [McDaniels] and he did a lot of good things. I thought his arrow was trending in the right direction. Matt Patricia] comes in the second year, and in fairness to a young quarterback, change around a young quarterback is never a good thing.

"In his third year, Bill O'Brien comes in. I was excited about Bill coming in. I've covered a lot of Bill's games over the years, in Houston, even when he was with the Patriots. I've got great respect for his body of work and who he is as a coach. I thought that would be a good marriage.

"I think what happened was, he got off to a slow start, struggled, turned the ball over, got yanked from a game or two, and his confidence, after what happened last year, it was just too much to overcome."

Former NFL MVP Rich Gannon joins Phil Perry on Zolak & Bertrand to discuss whether Mac Jones can bounce back from his struggles the past two seasons

Gannon saw some similarities in what's happened to Jones the last two years and what happened in his own career. Well before he established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league in the early 2000s, he couldn't get on the field in the late 1980s with the Vikings. He spent a year in Washington and four with the Chiefs before taking off with the Raiders, making his first Pro Bowl in 1999 under Jon Gruden at 34 years old, and winning MVP in 2002.

"I went through that in Minnesota," Gannon explained. "I waited for a chance to play. Finally got a chance to play. A coach never put his arm around me, gave me that opportunity and embraced me. I was never the guy, and they kicked me to the curb. I had to go to Washington for a year, then Kansas City and really kind of rehabilitate if you will, get my confidence back and find someone who believes in me.

"That's what Mac needs. It's tough when you're the guy, then you're not the guy. Bailey Zappe is in there. The struggle was his completion percentages come down, touchdowns come down, he wins 10 games his first year, the second it's six, this year it's two. It's tough.

"But the offensive line was a bit of an issue. When you don't have the people on the perimeter, it's hard to win. It's hard enough to play this game when you're healthy and you got a good team around you. It's really a struggle when you've got some issues with personnel."

Depite the change in scheme coming to New England, it could very well be a change in scenery that Jones needs to turn the page on this chapter of his career -- as was the case for Young when he went from Tampa Bay to San Francisco or Gannon when he left Minnesota.

If that happens, Meyers believes his old quarterback will revive his career.

"I think so," he said. "He's a good player, man. First off, you want to play with people that work hard. You know they're in there working so you need to be in there working, too. Second, he can throw a ball. He can throw a football. He can read a defense. He's going to put it on the money. He's a good player.

"It's hard for any job, working in the conditions when you're not comfortable... It's tough, man. Everybody wants to be comfortable at their workplace, and that didn't look like a comfortable environment from afar."

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