BOSTON — On Sunday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler floated the idea that the Patriots were a “wild card” as a landing spot for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
He’s not alone. Other NFL insiders have done the same, putting the Patriots in the mix as a dark horse to acquire the NFL’s 2019 MVP.
Whether the chatter is to be believed or not, it’s become a bit of an elephant in the room for the Patriots.
Don’t they already have a starting quarterback? Isn’t Mac Jones, their 2021 first-round pick, the guy moving forward for at least this season and next?
The answer is yes.
Jones is the quarterback they’re building around. He’s the quarterback who’s tailor-made for Bill O’Brien and the Patriots offense. That hasn’t changed. Now for the so-called “but” in this equation, and the reason the Jackson possibility has any legs at all.
While the Pats have made some nice moves during free agency, they still aren’t an upper echelon team. In the AFC alone, they aren’t on the same competitive rung as Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, the Chargers, Jacksonville or the Jets if the Aaron Rodgers trade finally comes to pass.
Obviously, landing Jackson, who torched the Patriots in a Week 4 loss (4 TD passes, 107 rushing yards) and has pretty much had his way against Belichick’s defense, would change that narrative and do so instantly. It would create so much more buzz in New England where the Patriots are concerned.
While adding JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki should help the offense, they really don’t move the needle in terms of being able to knock off Buffalo in the division, or slide in front of Miami, as well as the Jets, if they get Rodgers.
Having Jackson under center would completely change the view of the Patriots this season and beyond. He would make their offense so much harder to defend, being a legitimate threat to run. In turn, he would get the Patriots back into the business of being contenders.
One other reason why this is getting any attention at all is the perception that Bill Belichick has soured on Jones due in large part to how his quarterback behaved last year being coached by Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and the frustration Jones demonstrated publicly. Perhaps Belichick and Jones have issues because of that, but that wouldn’t be enough for the Patriots head coach and chief decision-maker to chase Jackson with the boatload of money and draft picks it would take to get him.
Belichick always thinks he can win with a decent roster and good coaching. He’s not in the camp that believes you need an elite quarterback to have a chance at a championship.
There’s a difference between reality and pipe dreams. There’s a difference between actually being in the hunt, or sitting on the outskirts as an outside-the-box choice thanks to Belichick’s reputation for being unpredictable.
Perhaps the Patriots are best described as an interested bystander. And that’s fine. They should be surveying what’s going on and kicking the tires on Jackson. If his price comes down, along with demands on a fully guaranteed contract, their curiosity would understandably be piqued, right along with a half-dozen other teams.
Getting back into the real world, this is beyond a long shot given how the Patriots work, not to mention the likelihood of Jackson cooling on his demands. One league source agreed, saying a move for Jackson “makes no sense” if you understand how Belichick thinks and know his history.
Belichick hasn’t been a fan of blowing up the budget for a quarterback. He won’t give a quarterback a cap-crippling amount of money, whether he can fudge the cap hit or not. If he wouldn’t pay Tom Brady, why would he pay Lamar Jackson? That’s simply not how he operates. And why would Jackson, who is holding out for a fully guaranteed deal, agree to a contract that is filled with incentives, which Brady did?
Belichick wanted to force Brady to “earn” his pay once he hit age 40. Case in point: in 2018, Brady’s contract reportedly included incentives for top five finishes in QB rating, passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns. And this, for a quarterback who won him six Super Bowls.
Pay Jackson hundreds of millions in guaranteed money? There’s little to no chance of that happening.
The Patriots have Jones on a rookie deal, which allows them to put better players around him. They’re paying him roughly 5% of what they’d have to pay Jackson on an average annual basis. They’d also have to change the offense for Jackson, although O’Brien is certainly familiar with styling an offense to suit a mobile quarterback given he coached Deshaun Watson in Houston.
Then, there’s the trade cost.
If it somehow got to the point of signing Jackson to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have to surrender two first-round picks thanks to the Ravens placing a non-exclusive franchise tag on him. If the Pats wanted to avoid that, they could work out a trade with the Ravens.
But does anyone think the Ravens are going to give the Patriots a break on a deal for their franchise quarterback?
Once again, reality over pipe dream.
“I don’t need Lamar here, but I sure as heck want to see Lamar running around with a New England Patriot on his helmet,” ESPN analyst and former Patriot Rob Ninkovich said Friday on Get Up!. “Because if you see it out there, the Patriots instantly become division favorites and, to me, get right back into that Super Bowl hunt.”
With Jackson, all of that is a possibility. But in the words of Aerosmith: “Dream on.”