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What’s Next for Mac Jones and the New England Patriots?

At 1-4, the Patriots appear headed toward their worst season in 30 years and, potentially, a high draft pick. The question is whether Mac Jones still fits into the long-term picture.

Thanks to a hapless offensive attack, you can make a case that the New England Patriots are the worst team in the NFL.

They’re 1-4 with the league’s second-worst point differential after a 34-0 loss Sunday to New Orleans. That comes a week after a 38-3 drubbing against Dallas. The Pats are last in the NFL in points per game, in the bottom 10 in total yards and rushing yards per game, and legendary head coach Bill Belichick has pulled quarterback Mac Jones in each of the last two contests.

Jones was the 15th pick of the 2021 draft as the supposed heir apparent to the recently departed Tom Brady. But of the five QBs selected in the top 15, only Trevor Lawrence has shown consistent success, while Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Jones have struggled. Through five games, the 25-year-old Jones is 27th in QBR, 25th in completion percentage, 21st in passing yards, 30th in yards per attempt, and 3.6% of his pass attempts have been intercepted, the league’s third-highest rate.

The good news for New England is that if it wants to cut bait with Mac, it won’t be expensive, though the only other QBs on the current roster are Will Grier and Bailey Zappe. Jones’ four-year, $15.6 million contract included an $8.7 million signing bonus, paying the former Alabama QB just over $2 million this year and $2.8 million next year before a fifth-year team option that could be $25-30 million. Suffice to say that the Pats aren’t picking that up unless Jones’ performance does a 180-degree turn to greatness.

While the New England defense has allowed the eighth-most points per game this season, it’s allowed the eighth-fewest total yards per game, including the sixth-fewest passing yards per contest. But while the Pats’ offense is anemic and they’re 29th in the league in turnover differential, how many games can we really expect them to win? With Las Vegas, Buffalo, and Miami up next, New England would be lucky to start the season 2-6.

Belichick has long been both the head coach and general manager, but whispers have grown louder by the week as to whether the 71-year-old, eight-time Super Bowl champion (six as head coach, two as a coordinator) will retire at the end of the season or even if he’ll be fired.

Whoever runs the Patriots next season will have the opportunity to quickly turn around their fortunes. Spotrac projects New England to have more than $80 million in cap space next offseason, one of the few highest totals in the league, allowing the team to restock talent alongside what should be a high draft pick.

Unrestricted free agents include several of the Pats’ top pass catchers in tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, defensive starters Kyle Duggar, Myles Bryant, and Josh Uche, and offensive line starters Trent Brown and Michael Onwenu. Special teams ace Matthew Slater and kicker Nick Folk are also notables coming off the books after this season.

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Mac Jones doesn’t look like a starting NFL quarterback and there’s a severe lack of talent on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots will have a chance next offseason if they properly utilize their cap space and strong draft position to upgrade at quarterback and on offense as a whole. Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, and Jacoby Brissett lead an uninspiring QB free agent class, but Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Quinn Ewers, and Michael Penix lead the QBs projected for next April’s first round.

Whether Belichick or Jones will be there next season to see New England’s vital roster re-tooling through is to be determined as the Patriots’ 2023 campaign quickly spirals into the storied franchise’s worst in more than three decades.

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