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Alabama quarterback Mac Jones may not play in the Senior Bowl on Saturday after injuring his left ankle.
"I rolled my ankle a little bit. At first I was a little worried about my right leg and now my left leg is a little hurt," Jones said Thursday. "I didn't get to finish (practice) but I don't want to risk it at this point. We'll just kind of figure out treatment and see how I feel. I'm not going to go out there if I'm not 100 percent."
If there’s ever an OK time to tap out of a game, the Senior Bowl would most definitely qualify. A player like Jones just logged three seasons in Tuscaloosa, helping line the pockets of Nick Saban, the university, the SEC and the NCAA.
Should he hobble out there for an All-Star game – once again playing for free while others collect cash from his presence and performance – and run the risk of playing poorly and having it held against him? Or, worse, aggravating the rolled ankle so that whatever pre-draft work he has lined up over the next few weeks is then compromised?
I know what I’d tell my kid. “They’ve seen enough. Don’t get hurt in the job interview. If they want to hold it against you, you don’t want to work for them.”
And yet … and YET… this is not a desk job. Playing with and through pain is a job requirement. Individuals willing and able to do so are valued.
Everyone agrees that arm strength, mobility and the ability to decipher defenses are of primary importance for a quarterback. But physical and mental resilience are just as important despite our contemporary tendency to bristle at any suggestion that someone’s got to "toughen up."
Any franchise chasing the siren song of skill while ignoring durability risks landing on the rocks.
Look at the arc of the Patriots franchise. Go back to Jim Plunkett. The No. 1 pick in 1971, he got pummeled for five seasons before giving way to Steve Grogan in 1976. One of the toughest sumbitches in the NFL, Grogan finished his career playing in a damn neckroll. Grogan’s successor, Tony Eason, was talented as hell. But his teammates thought him excessively soft.
Drew Bledsoe could take punishment. His sometimes puzzling decision-making led him to take more than he needed to. And, because of it, he ultimately gave way to the most indestructible quarterback in NFL history. Which led to the Patriots becoming the most decorated franchise of the Super Bowl Era.
As the Patriots labor to replace Brady, they’re whistling past the graveyard if they don’t take durability into great account.
Brady’s first would-be successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, has missed 23 of 48 regular season games since 2018. Which adds up. When he was supposed to be the starter for four games in 2016, he played in two.
His second would-be successor, Jarrett Stidham, had a golden opportunity at the start of training camp last August to make a case. He suffered groin soreness within two days, was limited and quickly overtaken by Cam Newton. Maybe it was a miracle Stidham was out there competing at all. Maybe it was a case of Stidham being overly cautious about competing at less than 100 percent. The Patriots’ impenetrable silence with injuries does the players no favors.
Either way, the durability and conditioning of every quarterback needs to be front-and-center for the Patriots. The fact that Jones is a little doughy has to be weighed in. How much does he value conditioning and nutrition? Does he work his ass off in the weight room and eat right but have a body that’s predisposed to being less than chiseled?
Brady was no Adonis. But his career goes on because, by 2005, he realized he better start changing his nutrition and workout habits to suit the position. He’s not doughy anymore.
Will it matter even a little bit if Jones doesn’t play in the Senior Bowl because of a rolled ankle? Absolutely. Will it be viewed as smart, the kind of prudent play a team can appreciate? Or as ducking an opportunity? Depends who’s doing the viewing.
UPDATE (Jan. 30): Jones isn't playing in Saturday's Senior Bowl, per NFL Network's broadcast, and only would be see the field in an "emergency" situation.