Anybody with eyes could see Mac Jones was unhappy with the Patriots’ offense last season. On multiple occasions, the second-year passer lit up his hapless offensive coordinator Matt Patricia in primetime, infamously informing him the “short game sucks!”
But four months removed from the season, the rumor-mongering about an apparent rift between Jones and the Patriots is reaching a fever pitch. There is innuendo, speculation, and suggestions, but nothing in the way of concrete reports.
On Tuesday, it seemed as if ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio was offering one when he wrote that Bill Belichick has shopped Jones to at least four teams (the Raiders, Texans, Buccaneers, and Commanders).
But in two subsequent interviews, Florio has vacillated.
NFL Insiderdom is broken, and the saga involving Jones proves it. There is so much content to churn out, talking heads and aggregators are scrambling for scraps.
Endless prattling about the Patriots trading Jones is the ultimate dumpster dive.
Before we go further, I must admit that I am also guilty when it comes to drumming up the storyline about Jones feuding with Belichick. In my previous position at Audacy Sports, I authored multiple stories per day, many of which were about the Patriots. The Patriots are a traffic goldmine, especially when you combine some palace intrigue.
And to be fair, there are signs that Belichick isn’t Jones’ biggest fan right now. At Belichick’s year-end press conference, he failed to commit to Jones as the team’s long-term starter.
That one ambiguous line was all the content machine needed to kick into overdrive.
Has there been a credible source on the “shopping Mac Jones” story?
— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) April 5, 2023
Chris Simms came out with the first whisper two days after Belichick’s presser: Jones went behind Belichick’s back and spoke with other coaches about the Patriots’ flailing offense.
Now, hosts and bloggers could attach a reason for Belichick’s podium snub: betrayal!
Simms’ anecdote about Jones circumventing Belichick still registers today. Earlier this week, long-time Patriots reporter Tom Curran (who works for NBC Sports, which owns ProFootballTalk), said in a radio interview that Jones “really pissed Belichick off” by going behind his back.
The following day, Florio published a post on PFT titled, “Tension lingers between Bill Belichick, Mac Jones.” In it, he quotes Curran.
What a nice, symbiotic relationship.
Later Tuesday, Florio came forward with his report about the Patriots shopping Jones. Florio’s wording is pretty definitive. “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Belichick has shopped Jones to multiple teams during the 2023 offseason,” he writes.
Florio, who was ranked on an Athletic agent survey as one of the most “powerful people” in the NFL, carries a lot of weight – especially in the world of talk radio and content aggregation. He’s not quite Adam Schefter, but he’s pretty close.
For a few fleeting moments, the story seemed ironclad. The Sports Hub’s “Felger & Mazz,” the highest-rated sports show in Boston (by an insane margin), dedicated all four hours of Tuesday’s program to Jones trade talk.
But then Florio started talking extemporaneously and sprinkling in caveats. On Curran’s podcast, he made it sound like the Patriots aren’t actively trying to trade Jones.
“I think that for now, he’s a Patriot. He continues to be a Patriot. He’s gonna compete for playing time with [backup] Bailey Zappe,” he said.
Hmm … that quote implies that Florio thinks Jones is actually going to stay with the Patriots. How could he compete with Zappe if he isn’t on the team?
Florio was even more non-committal Wednesday when he appeared on WEEI. “[Belichick] may never trade [Jones],” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t know if he was really serious about doing it, or what message he was trying to send.”
In 24 hours, Florio went from writing that a source told him Belichick has “shopped Jones to multiple teams” to saying that he doesn’t know whether Belichick was “really serious” about trading his young QB.
Those are two very different statements, but it doesn’t matter. The story is out there.
But unfortunately for them, Florio’s megaphone is louder, and his speculation is juicier.
This is the second time that Florio has written about Belichick and Jones, only to backtrack when asked about his own reporting. Back in October, when Jones was rehabbing an ankle injury, Florio wrote there were “uncharacteristic rumblings surrounding the relationship between the Patriots and Jones.”
Then on WEEI, Florio claimed he’s only written about Belichick and Jones’ relationship in a “vague, loose way.”
Florio is trying to have it both ways. While he’s writing actual reports about Belichick being unhappy with Jones, he doubts their credibility when he’s on the radio.
This is what often happens when NFL Insiders, or any sports reporter, moonlight as radio guests. They say what they would never write, or vice versa.
That’s what happened to Ben Volin, the Boston Globe’s national NFL writer. During an October appearance on WEEI, he quoted “somebody” from his Twitter DMs who told him “Mac’s attitude problem is obvious in the building and everyone knows it.”
But as it turns out, the DM was a lie. He was fooled by a Stoolie.
For the next several weeks, we will likely hear much more “chatter” about the Patriots shopping Jones. After all, there is so much time to fill. There’s destined to be a lot of hot air.
Florio and the like are happy to provide it.