Mac Jones' Patriots success speaks volumes on Trey Lance's potential

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Jones winning Pats job speaks volumes on Lance's potential originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

You're going to get sick of it, but just strap in and get used to the Trey Lance-Mac Jones comparisons.

Believe what you want about how Kyle Shanahan "played the media" in the lead up to the 2021 NFL Draft, but that Mac Jones smoke didn't come out of nowhere. A number of well-sourced journalists didn't all get got. Shanahan was interested in Jones. He liked what he saw from a quarterback that posted the highest PFF grade by any college quarterback in a single season and had the ideal skills for the West Coast offense.

In the end, Shanahan went a different direction. He wanted to wade into the new age waters of modern football and draft a quarterback who could take his offense to new heights in a way Jones, with his athletic limitations, could not.

So, Lance was selected to be the 49ers' franchise QB for the next decade, and Jones slid to No. 15 overall where Bill Belichick was more than happy to make Jones the face of the post-Tom Brady era in New England.

There were questions and doubts about Jones' NFL prospects, a belief that he only succeeded at Alabama due to the plethora of elite talent that was placed around him. That his accuracy, quick decision-making and pocket presence weren't great enough tools to overcome his athletic issues.

But after just three preseason games, Belichick, one of the brightest minds in the NFL and arguably the greatest coach of all time, had seen all he needed from Jones to start a new era at One Patriot Place, cutting Cam Newton on Tuesday and naming the Alabama product the starter.

That, on its face, has little to do with Lance and the 49ers.

The situations are totally different. Newton looked like a shell of himself last season, has been injured, is unvaccinated and has been outplayed by Jones for most of camp and the preseason.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have a more established veteran quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo and legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Lance had good moments in the preseason and it's easy to see how, when the time comes, Shanahan will torment defenses with a true dual-threat QB. But Lance didn't do what was necessary to beat out Garoppolo, and the 49ers don't need the North Dakota State product to be the starter right now.

But if you dig a little deeper, Belichick's belief in and willingness to bet on Jones tells you a lot about how high expectations should be for Lance when he gets to drive Shanahan's Maserati offense full time.

Whatever you think of Shanahan, whether you see him as a genius who has had a string of bad luck or a career 29-35 head coach who has been given more plaudits than he has earned, one thing is true: He knows quarterbacks. And all signs point to the QB maestro having a real belief that Jones could be the trigger man he was looking for.

Belichick had a similar belief in Jones. After going 7-9 in his first season in two decades without Brady, Belichick sent another signal that he believes Jones is the real deal by making him the starter on Day 1. It would have been safe to allow Newton to start and go to Jones once the veteran struggled. That's the easy way.

But Belichick doesn't play games and has no problem making the decision many would shy away from.

Jones has impressed the man who spent 20 years tied to the greatest quarterback in history, and Belichick sees no point in waiting. He thinks Jones is ready now.

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In Shanahan and Belichick, two of the top minds in the NFL loved what they saw from Jones. There should be little doubt he was in consideration to be the 49ers' pick at No. 3, and that the Patriots were giddy he slid to them at No. 15.

Shanahan's belief in Jones has, at least at this very early stage, been proven correct. He was the best of the rookie QBs in the preseason, has received glowing reviews from teammates, coaches and Belichick, and won the starting job outright once Newton threw the door wide open by going in COVID protocols.

That Shanahan believed in Jones and appears to have been correct in his talent evaluation, and still chose Lance should speak volumes about where the bar should be for the 49ers rookie QB when his time comes.

Shanahan liked what he saw from Jones and saw him as a realistic option to be the QB he could tie his coaching legacy to. But he saw an even brighter future with Lance, one that was briefly on display when the 49ers unleashed their QB run game against the Raiders in their preseason finale, showing a wrinkle Shanahan's offenses haven't had and one Jones couldn't provide.

Two of the NFL's brightest minds believed in Mac Jones. So far, he has proven them correct. That Shanahan saw Jones' potential, but saw even greater possibilities for Trey Lance, shows the 49ers might finally have found their way out of the QB desert they have been wandering through for the past 20 years. 

And that the 49ers' future, one that has Lance orchestrating an offense that will be the stuff of nightmares for opposing defenses, has the potential to be even greater than many anticipated.

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