Quarterback competitions in New England are usually reserved for backup jobs and practice squad spots.
Even last year, at the outset of the post-Tom Brady era, the QB race quickly fizzled, with Jarrett Stidham physically unable to stand up to the challenge of Cam Newton.
But after an uneven campaign with Newton under center, a legit competition is on tap for the summer of '21, especially after what we witnessed this spring, with rookie Mac Jones looking every bit the part of the first-round draft pick he is.
The 22-year old out of Alabama was fast-tracked during the course of OTAs and mandatory minicamp, on a number of occasions getting more reps than the incumbent Newton and, up until the final day of minicamp, looking better than Cam. Are there still mistakes? Obviously. Jones has only been here for a hot minute. Yet there is an efficiency to his game and an accuracy -- especially in the short to intermediate areas -- that Newton just lacked this past season.
It's not just the physical that stands out. The Pats have thrown everything at Jones, and his grasp of a playbook that's over 20 years in the making has been impressive. As one offensive teammate told me, "Mac sees the game the way (offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) sees it."
There are those inside the building who would tell that player to slow his roll, that it is way too early to know if Jones is fully ready for what lies ahead. But the belief is that once Jones is able to slow the game down consistently, he has the other necessary attributes to go from quarterback of the future to quarterback of the present. But just how soon can that happen?
"Mac, he's a young guy, but you can't really just refer to him as a young guy," right tackle Trent Brown said at the end of minicamp. "You can tell he's been at a place where (he got) some coaching. I think he's going to be special here in the future."
"Good energy. Awesome guy. Can feel his leadership already," said new Pats wide receiver Kendrick Bourne during OTAs. "He has a swag to him that I didn't know he had at first."
Even the man Jones is going toe-to-toe with agrees that the rookie has been up to the task.
"He's doing a great job with being everything as advertised," said Newton in the middle of June.
Newton will not surrender a job he believes is his. After showing some of the same issues that reared their head a season ago -- inaccurate, slow to pull the trigger -- the veteran rebounded on the final day of minicamp with what was singularly the best practice we in the media have been able to see over the last year. He was making it look easy, and doing it with supreme confidence. It was that confidence that won teammates and Bill Belichick over almost immediately last summer, times 10. There was a crispness to Newton's play that only existed in flashes but was never sustained.
Can he carry that play into August and beyond? With the future franchise quarterback pushing like crazy to make it happen in the present, Newton had better, or his belief that there aren't 32 signal-callers better than him will be put to the test.