The Mac Jones discourse has gotten predictably out of hand, but Dan Orlovsky did his best to even the field in a wild way Thursday morning.
The former NFL quarterback who is now one of ESPN’s top football analysts went on “Get Up” and did what he has done for a lot of this season: talk about Jones.
Orlovsky has been one of Jones’ biggest defenders (more on that in a bit), so, of course, he had to weigh in on recent comments from Patriots legend Rob Gronkowski. The former New England tight end claimed Jones is “not respected in New England,” saying Jones should demand to be released to sign with the suddenly QB-needy Cleveland Browns.
Orlovsky wasted no time buying into that idea while going to bat for his guy and lamenting Jones’ woeful situation in New England.
“I think Cleveland would be a playoff team with Mac Jones, unquestionably in their situation right now,” Orlovsky said Thursday, as seen in a clip shared to X. “Two things can be true at the same time: New England has absolutely failed Mac Jones, unquestionably, and Mac Jones hasn’t taken care of his own business when it comes to fixing some of his mechanics. Two of those things can be true at the same time. The next level is this: We have to be honest about where New England is right now. Three out of the last four years, they’ve been a bad football team (and) 2021 they were somehow OK.
“They’re awful right now, and they’re now with a quarterback that apparently in Gronk’s eyes or words, no one wants there anymore. They have the greatest head coach in the history of the game, people have questions about when it comes to his future, and they’re trending toward having the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. There are a lot of questions in New England, more so than there are answers, for the first time in 20-plus years.”
First, in defense of Orlovsky, the clip cuts off right after that point, and perhaps the conversation was slightly more nuanced.
But also, what the hell is he talking about? There’s nothing “unquestionable” about Jones’ potential for success with any team in the NFL, including the Patriots or the Browns. All there are questions when it comes to Jones, who has largely failed to meet expectations as a first-round pick quarterback.
Orlovsky is right that the Patriots have done him no favors. It’s truly pathetic how poorly New England has fumbled the ball when it comes to building around the significant investment that a first-round quarterback is. But it also feels like the discourse, especially for someone like Orlovsky, has absolved Jones of some of his gridiron sins. That’s not a strawman argument, either. Dan Shaughnessy — Dan Shaughnessy! — gave a public defense of the Patriots quarterback earlier this week.
The thing is, though, there is nothing to say Jones could or would flourish as a starting quarterback anywhere else in the NFL. His play in New England over the last two seasons has been so bad that it’s worth wondering whether he’s even a starting quarterback in the NFL. Go back and look at his NFL draft profile coming out of Alabama. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein slapped a Daniel Jones comparison (lol) on Mac Jones, identifying some of his weaknesses as “doesn’t play with the desired poise of an NFL starter,” adding his “play can be panicky and rushed in the face of pressure,” while ending by saying he’d like to see Jones “play with more grit.”
Check, check and check to this point of Jones’ NFL career.
When Jones was still at Alabama, Zierlien didn’t have him as a first-round pick in his early mock draft, nor did ESPN’s Todd McShay. Jones had a great season at Bama and improved his draft stock throwing to the likes of Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr., Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
That was the perfect situation for an accurate game-manager like Jones to flourish. Those are hard to come by at the NFL level. Obviously, New England isn’t that perfect situation, but neither is Cleveland — or pretty much any team. Deshaun Watson isn’t the only injured Brown. Cleveland is also down both of its starting offensive tackles and Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb. Their leading receiver, Amari Cooper, would admittedly be the Patriots’ top pass-catcher, too, but he’s a shell of what he was in Dallas and Oakland. After that, tight end David Njoku and Jets castoff Elijah Moore round out the arsenal.
For all of the issues he’s had, the Browns won four of the five games Watson played (not counting the Indy game he took 12 snaps), and he’s still far more talented than Jones — as he proved by going 14-of-14 to orchestrate a fourth-quarter comeback win against an elite Baltimore defense last week, the sort of signature win Jones only wishes he had on his resume.
Not to mention, it would be hard to feel good about any team — even one with a defense like Cleveland’s — having success under Jones in a division like that with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
It’s possible, if not probable at this point, that Jones just isn’t a good quarterback. He should be done in New England, and he’ll get a chance to resurrect his career as a backup somewhere. Maybe it will work. But at this point in his career, as he nears the end of his third season, that makes you believe he has what it takes physically or mentally to be the guy Orlovsky seems to think he is.
At this point, though, no one should be surprised by Orlovsky’s loyalty to Jones. Orlovsky has hammered the Patriots’ offensive structure for two years now. His critiques of Jones, meanwhile, are typically limited to base-level mechanics like footwork. We now know the two even text “almost every week.” The two have a good relationship, according to Orlovsky, claiming Jones reached out to him for help.
That alone means we have to take anything Orlovsky says about his pupil with a grain of salt, and it’s worth wondering whether the former QB is so compromised that he can’t see or admit what the rest of us continue to acknowledge: Jones just might not be very good, in New England or anywhere.