Who Should Start Week 1: Cam Newton or Mac Jones?

The Patriots drafted who they hope to be their new franchise quarterback last night in Mac Jones. The reaction to the pick has been fairly mixed, but everyone appears ready to see a young quarterback get a chance to shine in Foxboro. How long it will be before Jones gets that chance is another question.

So far, the Patriots and Mac Jones appear more than content with Cam Newton being the starter next season while Jones is groomed on the bench.

“Cam’s our quarterback.” Belichick said immediately after drafting Jones. “Whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, then we’ll see how that goes.”

Jones didn’t seem all too convinced he would start right away either. “It’s his show.” Jones said when asked about Cam Newton. “I’m just there to support him.”

The Patriots are typically fairly reluctant to hand over significant roles to rookies, no matter the position. That rings true at the quarterback position as well. Even Tom Brady didn’t start as a rookie. The same is true for Jimmy Garoppolo and Jarrett Stidham, but unlike those two, Jones won’t have the greatest quarterback of all-time to compete with.

Despite the Patriots verbal commitment to Newton, it’s important to acknowledge this is a common trope in the NFL. A team drafts a rookie quarterback, the team insists the veteran incumbent will keep the starting job, then the team hands the job to the rookie anyway. There are plenty of examples of this like Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, and Baker Mayfield. Two of which stole the job from Tyrod Taylor (sorry, Tyrod).

However, there are two common factors as to why most rookie quarterbacks don’t start that won’t be at play for Mac Jones: An aging, all-time great who has spent his entire career with the team is still playing at an elite level (Favre-Rodgers, Brady-Garoppolo, Rodgers-Love) or the roster isn’t good enough for the young quarterback to step in and find immediate success. Conversely, the Patriots have great weapons at tight end and a solid offensive line, ideal for a young quarterback (just look at what Hunter Henry did for Justin Herbert last year), and while some may consider Cam Newton a legend, he hasn’t done enough in New England to warrant any sort of special treatment from the organization to allow him to close out his career with some semblance of dignity despite his lackluster play (i.e. Peyton Manning with the Broncos).

Jones isn’t exactly a project. In fact, some experts have dubbed him as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class. When Chris Simms assumed the 49ers were taking Jones with the 3rd overall pick, he insisted Jones was ready to start right away.

“You trade up to 3 for a QB who is NFL ready right now, not a project, and to me, that says Mac Jones.” Simms said on Twitter back in March.

Jones’ top NFL comparison throughout the draft process has been Andy Dalton, who started right away for Cincinnati despite being a second round pick. Dalton went on to start 109 of 112 games with the Bengals to start his career and made it to three Pro Bowls over that span. Dalton led Cincinnati to five straight playoff appearances to start his career, their longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances in franchise history. The team has only had two other appearances without Dalton since 1990. With a much better organization in the Patriots, perhaps Jones could accomplish even more than Dalton did.

There are some benefits of sitting a quarterback for a year before giving them the starting role. Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, two quarterbacks taken in the same range as Jones, appear to have benefited greatly from their time as a backup. Perhaps Jones could have the same experience. However, if Newton struggles this season, New England fans will quickly start clambering for Jones. But, if anyone can ignore the noise and do what’s in the best long-term interest for his football team, it’s Bill Belichick.

Should Mac Jones start Week 1? Vote on Twitter or view the results!

Photo: Elise Amendola – (AP Photo / Tony Dejak – AP Photo)

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