Some thoughts on this Friday:
1) With quarterback Mac Jones still working hard behind the scenes getting ready for the upcoming season, it’s still interesting to hear the mindset of people locally when it comes to the New England Patriots’ signal-caller.
Coming off a promising rookie season, the outlook on Jones among most seemed pretty strong. Bill Belichick fed into that optimism last spring, singing Jones’s praises through most of the offseason as the quarterback spent a fair mount of time both at the facility, as well as working with teammates off the field getting ready for the season.
That work seemed to pay off. The team performed so well in minicamp that Belichick cut things off early, allowing the players to get a headstart on their time off. That in and of itself was a surprising enough move that it left most feeling like we were in for a potentially strong season.
Instead, it was a year full of turmoil, with a rough beginning in training camp leading to inconsistent performances and coaching during a tumultuous 2022 Regular Season.
Mix in an injury to Jones in week three that allowed a brief – and successful – cameo appearance by Bailey Zappe, and the tables quickly turned on Jones, who is now facing a critical offseason.
His success next season is clearly going to decide his future, and the future of the team. And anyone who isn’t rooting for him to turn things around is clearly missing the big picture.
In today’s NFL, it’s impossible to win without a viable quarterback, and someone who can go out and execute and diagnose opposing defenses. We’ve seen plenty of physically gifted passers fail in the NFL, which is a reminder of just how difficult it is to play the position. You can have the strongest arm in the world, but not being able to break things down quickly in the heat of the moment is typically a more important attribute.
That’s been a strength of Jones. While he may not have the strongest arm in the league, his smarts and his accuracy have been the two things that helped him during his rookie year, and even at various times in the debacle that was his sophomore season.
Some are calling for Bill Belichick to explore other options, but it’s a bit premature in the process to bail on a guy who showed so much promise in year one, with his second season so full of question marks with things outside his control. Not to mention the fact that NFL level quarterbacks aren’t exactly plentiful, and that moving on from Jones could start a cycle for the Patriots that could put them in a situation similar to teams like Chicago, the Jets, the Dolphins, the 49ers, all of which went decades without a quarterback. While Miami and the 49ers seem to potentially have an answer, none of those clubs are exactly rock-solid in that area.
For anyone hoping for the Patriots to get back into the ring, it all hinges on Jones ultimately becoming who they felt he could be. Step one this offseason was fixing two key issues, with the hiring of both offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm addressing their biggest woes from last season. Jones made it clear that he wants to be “coached harder” so he can get better. He’s a guy who wants to put in the work, especially if it means better results. O’Brien is definitely someone who can certainly help Jones get there while also getting the offense back on track.
Jones has already been putting in the work physically, with film from local trainer Nic Shimonek revealing some of the work the third-year QB has been doing to improve his strength, his core, and his agility. People can ridicule him, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s taking the necessary additional steps to make 2023 a better season.
For now, that’s what fans should be happy about. Obviously, many people were disappointed with being on the outside looking in during this past postseason.
If Jones fails, the Patriots certainly won’t be any closer.
Which is why rooting for Jones’s success is going to be something everyone should hope comes to fruition this season.
Rodgers’s future remains uncertain. (PHOTO: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
2) Aaron Rodgers departing Green Bay feels more and more like a bad idea for the veteran quarterback, not to mention for the two teams rumored to be interested in acquiring him.
While the thought of bringing Rodgers to the desert may seem like an intriguing idea for Josh McDaniels, it’s certainly a risky endeavor.
Should Rodgers struggle, he’s certainly not one to take personal accountability and will likely pull his head coach into a confrontational situation within the media. You don’t have to look much farther than last year where Rodgers, as much as he talked in 2022 about ‘not breaking rank,’ is absolutely the first person to throw others under the bus at the first sign of adversity.
For McDaniels, he was fortunate to survive his first season in Las Vegas and after effectively forcing Derek Carr out the door, he now likely has little margin for error. Putting his entire future in the hands of Rodgers seems like a bad way to go, which is why a trade there seems unlikely.
As for Rodgers potentially landing in New York, that feels like a disaster waiting to happen as well. Head coach Robert Saleh has done a good job of improving the culture with the Jets and he handled the Zach Wilson mess about as well as he could have. But that’s another situation where it feels like the Jets may be better served to set their sights on Lamar Jackson instead of a player who could potentially disrupt things in that locker room.
Overall, it feels like Rodgers could be headed into a make-or-break year with Green Bay instead of getting another start elsewhere at this point. The 39-year-old seems to have an ego his mind and body hasn’t been able to keep up with the last couple of seasons, and he certainly seems to be dishing out more blame than really taking a look in the mirror to this point.
Rodgers has said he plans on locking himself away in the dark for a bit to think things over before making any decisions.
Still, regardless of what he decides, barring him walking away from football, it would be tough to imagine him playing anywhere but Wisconsin this fall.
3) With the Patriots waiving Kristian Wilkerson this week, it’s certainly a disappointing finish to the tenure of a player who seemed to have plenty of potential.
The dirty hit he sustained in preseason cost him the entire 2022 campaign, which robbed the Patriots of some additional depth for a guy who showed some terrific athleticism last summer.
He was the team’s leading receiver with 8 receptions for 99-yards after their first game against the Giants last August and seemed to be poised to build on that and compete for a roster spot.
Instead, a vicious shot by Kenny Robinson on a kickoff drill the following week in a joint practice with the Panthers left him with a significant concussion, and Wilkerson clearly never came back from it.
Wilkerson has since been claimed by the Colts following the Patriots transaction, so it appears there’s some hope that his career isn’t over.
It’s just too bad that his season ended before it ever really got started, especially given some of the uncertainty the team still has at receiver heading into this offseason where depth will likely remain a need.
Bieniemy appears ready to forge his own path elsewhere. (PHOTO:Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
4) It’s interesting seeing Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy looking to bolt from Kansas City this offseason, albeit, it’s certainly not surprising.
After multiple head coaching interviews the last few years, Bieniemy has seemingly come up short and it’s likely because of the fact he’s working under Andy Reid, who continues to be one of the better offensive minds in football.
As a result, it’s a shadow that Bieniemy is having a tough time getting out from under, and it looks like he’s ready to try and prove himself elsewhere.
He’s in a tough spot, especially considering what happened in Tampa Bay this past season. Former Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians stepping away ultimately hurt offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who found himself without a job after one season on his own even with Tom Brady.
That situation is likely a precedent hurting Bieniemy, who will likely need to experience success on his own before he’ll really have an opportunity to become a head coach for a team in the NFL.
He’s recently interviewed for the offensive coordinator position in Washington for the Commanders, which would certainly be a great way to establish himself if he was able to get that team back to becoming a bigger factor in the NFC East.
Should he get the job it will certainly be interesting to see how his season goes. But for a guy who has been so highly touted in recent years, it’s still surprising that he’s in this situation. Hopefully, he’ll end up with better results than Leftwich and will finally prove he’s more than people think he’s been while working under Reid.
5) ESPN Patriots beat writer and local favorite Mike Reiss has become one of the most renowned writers in the area, but many people don’t realize it took a lot for him to get to where he is now.
Reiss, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts back in 1997, actually had a difficult time breaking into the sports journalism world after he initially finished school. Reiss recently appeared on the “Pats From the Past” podcast with Matt Smith and Paul Perillo, and said that his initial efforts to find a job saw him face a sizable amount of rejection.
“You’re in college, you’re like, ‘Hey, I want to work in sports media, I want to be a newspaper reporter,” said Reiss. “So I sent out all my resumes to newspapers across the country, call it 200 resumes. 200 rejection letters come back and I’m like, ‘How can this be? I’ve had good experience in college at UMASS and even before that at my local newspaper.’ And then, as it turned out, my brother has a friend who I knew through my brother, Dougie Reiss, and the friend, Neil Cohen, who went to summer camp with [Patriots Chief Digital Officer and then-Patriots Football Weekly Editor] Fred Kirsch and he said, ‘I heard your brother’s looking for a job, he’s graduating, he should reach out to Fred Kirsch. He’s looking for an entry-level writer for Patriots Football Weekly, it’s like a team newspaper that they have over at the Patriots.'”
“So I said, ‘all right, I’ll reach out to Fred Kirsch, and guys, honestly, every time I see Fred, whether it’s at the game or at the stadium, I wrap him up in a big hug because he was the only person to offer me a job coming out of college. And his decision, as we sit here today, I can honestly tell you, it changed my life.”
Reiss clearly took advantage of the opportunity. It eventually opened the door for him to cover the team at a local level at the Metrowest Daily News, followed by his next step up with the Boston Globe before eventually landing at ESPN, which is where he still is today.
Reiss revolutionized blogging about the team with his unique writing style, and his insight, with the long-time writer having since become the benchmark for most writers and bloggers locally. As one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet, Reiss has also built a lot of trust among players in the locker room, making him one of the more well-connected reporters, and he continues to be one of the best in the region.
It just goes to show that even the best didn’t have it easy starting out and considering all the turmoil that continues to go on in this industry, it’s great to see him still going strong.
Posted Under: 2023 Patriots Offseason
Tags: 2023 NFL Offseason 2023 Patriots Offseason Aaron Rodgers Eric Bieniemy Mac Jones