The Joker laughs last: Mac Jones had to wait but is all smiles with New England Patriots | Hurt
Former Alabama football quarterback Mac Jones stepped into the void at 7:41 p.m. Central Time on Thursday night. You could say he was pushed, or that his hold on the penthouse balcony of the NFL Draft met the finger-crunching boot of the San Francisco 49ers.
Maybe 49ers management was in sincere anguish until the moment it sent its envelope to a podium in Cleveland. Maybe Jones was a smokescreen all along, for whatever reason San Francisco had to divert attention from Trey Lance, the North Dakota State quarterback who will now face NFL competition with precisely one game against FBS competition in college under his belt.
That’s not a knock on Lance’s potential, just a fact that made some people wonder if the move up to No. 3 and the need for secrecy (why be worried about spies when you hold the No. 3 pick and the first two picks are certain?) surrounding the move.
The floating in that void continued. Three Alabama teammates came off the board. The fourth of the five projected first-round quarterbacks, Justin Fields of Ohio State, was chosen No. 11 by the upward-trading Chicago Bears.
Three more picks ticked by. Then Jones heard his name from the team that, according to him, was the destination he wanted all along: the New England Patriots. For the player nicknamed “Joker,” it may have given him the last laugh. If nothing else, it ended a month of frenzied speculation that Jones probably didn’t want in the first place.
First, there are drops and there are perceived drops. The entire issue around Jones began when San Francisco made the expensive trade up to No. 3 in the first place. Before that, most draft analysts would have thought that the middle of the first round was about right for Jones. He seemed more of a top-15 guy than a top-5 guy, even with his mighty statistical achievements in 2020.
But for 90 minutes, the media (and I’m not singling out ESPN or the NFL Network here, because everyone was using the word “drop," including The Tuscaloosa News) had a ready-built storyline. That 90 minutes might not have seemed long to Jones, who waited four years in a crowded quarterback room at Alabama for his chance. In the instant-twitch Twitter world, it wasn’t a Brady Quinn plunge.
Second, this wasn’t some favor from New England coach and czar Bill Belichick to Alabama coach (and czar) Nick Saban. The NFL is a big business, as anyone watching on Thursday night is well aware. No one in the league lasts long by using first-round draft choices as favors.
Did Belichick ask Saban questions? Sure he did, but he did so knowing that Saban would give honest answers. Jones is now the fourth “modern-era” first-round quarterback from Alabama, joining Joe Namath, Richard Todd and last year’s No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa.
There will be a new set of storylines, especially intriguing in Alabama, when Jones arrives in Massachusetts and joins a quarterback room with Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, flanked by an Auburn graduate on either side.
“Newton and Jones” would make a great stand-alone documentary based on the very different personalities of the two. The No 15 overall pick doesn’t carry the same expectations as the No. 3 pick would have, but at some point – maybe in 2021, maybe 2022 – a first-rounder is expected to become a starter. There will be comparisons to Lance and Fields, too. But to somehow view Thursday as a bad start for Jones seems like an overreach, given all the circumstances.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt