Bill Belichick and the Patriots have always faced a lot of scrutiny, with most of it coming from a place of disbelief and jealousy over the longevity of their unthinkable success.
But in recent years, since the departure of Tom Brady, Belichick's legacy as a head coach has begun to take a hit, specifically over his talent in developing a quarterback. Although he's not expected to strike gold twice and find a Brady 2.0, many have started to question how good he is at creating a successful team due to the underwhelming start to Mac Jones' career in New England.
Whether the criticism is warranted or not, Belichick hasn't exactly helped his case with how he's handled coaching the young quarterback over the last two seasons, specifically in how he's built the team around him.
His decision to overlook an essential trend that has led several young quarterbacks to success in their third season may be what hinders Jones from excelling this year.
With so much on the line for both the head coach and quarterback, it makes no sense that little effort was made to get what Jones will most likely need to lead a competitive team again.
So how did they get to this point? And what did Belichick not do this offseason?
The 2020 season led the Patriots to Mac Jones
Despite knowing that the end was likely near with Brady in 2019, it was a complete shock when the legendary quarterback decided to leave the team he had only been with since joining the NFL. Other than the disbelief that the inevitable had come early, there was also the realization that Belichick hadn't developed an adequate backup plan in case of this situation.
At the time, only Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham remained as the quarterbacks for the season ahead.
Considering his age and experience predominately as a backup in the league, Hoyer taking over in Brady's place was ruled out fairly quickly. That left Stidham, in just his second season, to presumably become the next starting quarterback in New England.
It certainly wasn't the most desirable scenario, but Belichick hadn't replicated a successful roster of quarterbacks behind Brady since he traded Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017. The pair had done an exemplary job during Brady's suspension the season before and were privileged to learn from the best of the best during their time as Patriots.
For much of the offseason, Stidham was considered the quarterback for the 2020 season. But that changed late in the summer when it was announced Cam Newton was signing a one-year contract with New England.
The former league MVP and record-breaking quarterback had recently been released from the Panthers, with whom he saw a lot of success with and was hoping for a fresh start with a new team.
Now, we know how the rest of Newton's time went with the Patriots and how it can be interpreted is up to the person you ask. But it was clear from the start he, too, was not the long term solution, which brought us to the 2021 draft.
The Patriots and Mac Jones partnership looked like a match made in heaven
After struggling through the 2020 season, the Patriots found themselves with one of their highest first-round draft picks in recent years at 15. This put them in ample position to likely take their new quarterback of the future, which is precisely what happened.
Despite the speculation that the San Francisco 49ers were interested in taking Jones for their team, the quarterback fell into the Patriots' laps and was an easy choice once they were on the clock.
Coming from Alabama, Jones was the perfect candidate to become the next Patriot. One of Belichick's friends, Nick Saban, coached him, who has also been known for being a tough and serious man to work with on the football field. It was almost like the quarterback had been preparing to work with Belichick for years before arriving in Foxboro.
Once officially part of the team, the chemistry between Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was immediate. And that relationship translated onto the field, ultimately leading to the Patriots finishing the season with a winning record and a postseason appearance, which hadn't happened the previous season.
It looked like Belichick may have gotten lucky in his search for a new quarterback again, and those outside New England weren't exactly happy about it.
But that all came crashing down just one year later, and without getting into all of the nitty-gritty of the 2022 season, it was a substantial hit to the development and confidence of Jones after accomplishing an impressive rookie season for a quarterback.
Bill Belichick had the opportunity to hit a home run during the 2023 offseason, but...
Besides the obvious reasons Belichick needed to make drastic changes to the Patriots this offseason, there was a lot of pressure from Robert Kraft to make the right decisions to give the team the best chance of success this upcoming season.
The Patriots are a team used to success, so ending the season with a losing record and missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons was not something Kraft was willing to get comfortable with.
This forced Belichick to get rid of his buddy Matt Patricia, who fortunately found a job with the Eagles, and remove Joe Judge from his position as the quarterbacks' coach and hire their qualified replacements of Bill O'Brien and Adrian Klemm.
But then came the issue of improving the offense in particular.
The search for the next WR1 has continued since Brady was still a member of the roster and only got worse once Julian Edelman retired in 2021. Given the severity of the struggles last season with the offense, it seemed like the prime opportunity for Belichick to finally make the much-needed move and bring in a top-talent receiver to instantly boost the offense overall.
The trend to help your third-year quarterback wasn't a priority in New England
The need for that quality of receiver felt even more important when looking at the recent history of young quarterbacks as they entered their third season.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was a decent quarterback through his first two years in the league but became the dominant force on the field in his third season when the team traded for Stefon Diggs. Since the receiver joined the team, Allen's stock has dramatically increased, and we've seen his performance lead the team atop the AFC East and near the Super Bowl over the last three seasons.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts saw a similar start to his career, with some labeling him a bust after just two seasons. But, like Allen, the Eagles traded some highly desirable draft picks to the Titans to acquire star receiver A.J. Brown. His addition to the team put the Eagles over the edge, leading Hurts to his first Super Bowl appearance and receiving his first Pro Bowl honors in 2022.
And just to hit this point home even further, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was also lucky to be handed the same fortune as the other two quarterbacks. After struggling in his first two seasons, the team acquired Tyreek Hill in a blockbuster trade with the Chiefs. Adding him to a receiving corps that included Jaylen Waddle propelled Tua into stardom that he wasn't expected to reach.
So how come Belichick didn't follow this recipe for success with Jones entering his third season?
Other than the assumption it's due to him not liking to spend the money needed to acquire big-name receivers, it's difficult to imagine he doesn't see the potentially massive impact a receiver of that caliber could add to the offense.
Sure, he's seen the team be incredibly successful without having one of the flashiest receivers on the team, but it's important to remember who the quarterback was during those years. It's not common for a quarterback to be able to make a former lacrosse player look like the best receiver in the game, and that shouldn't be expected from Mac Jones.
And this isn't to say that signing JuJu Smith-Schuster was a bad choice; it wasn't. But he doesn't appear to be the game-changing type of receiver Jones would need to become like the other quarterbacks mentioned.
Perhaps Jones will become the anomaly and prove that he doesn't need a clear-cut WR1 to have his game immediately elevated. But the chances of that happening seem slimmer than Belichick ever getting him the best receiver in the league.
Maybe next year will be the year the head coach finally changes his ways and goes all out for the receiver fans have longed to see on the team, especially since guys like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and Tee Higgins will be free agents and the Patriots will have a projected $100+ million in cap space to spend.
But that may be too late for Jones, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract and facing an uncertain future on the team unless he outperforms expectations this season.
Hopefully, Belichick will do what's right and make a move by the trade deadline in October to set up his team, and most importantly, Jones, for success for now and the seasons ahead. Otherwise, we may see the fallout of the Patriots continue instead.