Alabama quarterback Mac Jones holds a Patriots jersey after he was picked by New England during the first round of the NFL draft. But that No. 1 belongs to Cam Newton who, according to Coach Bill Belichick, is still the starter for the Patriots. Tony Dejak/Associated Press

I don’t know about you all. But I thought we were going to see Boring Bill on Thursday night.

We’ve been conditioned at this point to anticipate it, after more than 20 years of watching Bill Belichick navigate his way through the NFL draft. How often have we seen it where exciting names you’ve heard about for months are on the board, the Patriots’ turn to pick is coming up…and they go the least exciting route possible? They take the lineman they don’t seem to need. Or the safety no one else has heard of. Or, Belichick’s signature move, they trade down. No pick at all, just stockpiling for the later rounds down the road.

That’s Boring Bill. That’s what I was expecting. That’s what he’s given Patriots fans reason to expect.

Which is why Belichick could simply stay put with the 15th pick, and make the most conventionally wise selection available, thereby filling the biggest hole on his roster — and still send a shock wave throughout the league.

Drew Bonifant column photo

Mac Jones, the record-setting Alabama quarterback, is headed to Foxborough. It’s the move everyone saw coming, and no one saw coming. When you’ve learned to expect the unexpected, the expected can sneak up on you.

I didn’t think this was going to happen. You never got the sense after Tom Brady announced that he wouldn’t be back in New England that Belichick was actively searching for the “next guy.” He seemed happy to go forward with Jarrett Stidham. Then he waited throughout last offseason before getting Cam Newton off the scrap heap. Then, after the 2020 season revealed no promising options under center, he addressed other roster needs while quarterbacks on the move like Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota became unavailable.


There were constant rumors about the team trying to pry former heir apparent Jimmy Garoppolo from the 49ers, but externally, the Patriots seemed unwilling to commit hard to a long-term solution. And using the 15th overall pick in the draft falls in the category of committing hard.

There was reason to think this year would be different, that with a stack of coveted quarterbacks in Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Jones being potentially in the Patriots’ range and New England having such an urgent need, Belichick’s FOMO would finally kick in and he’d get in on the fun. But there was just as much reason to think that the stage was all the more set for Boring Bill to pull the rug out yet again.

Not this time. This time, the Patriots’ move and the conventional move were one in the same.

Jones makes a lot of sense for New England. He’s not Tom Brady — no one else is, or will be — but his strengths on the field seem to resemble what Brady’s have been. He’s smart, a polished passer who reads the field, and he’s accurate. He doesn’t run well and prefers to stay in the pocket. Sound familiar?

He’s received criticism for being a product of Alabama’s incredibly talented system, but he’s had plenty of staunch supporters. Chris Simms loved him. Charlie Weis loved him. Former NFL linebacker David Pollack said Jones’s tape was better than top pick Trevor Lawrence’s. Those other ‘Bama quarterbacks, the Greg McElroys and A.J. McCarrons, didn’t get praise like that.

Jones, in many ways, was the easy pick for New England. The safe pick. The obvious pick.


And that’s just the kind of pick the Patriots, and Belichick, have tended not to make.

In 2010, when it looked like the team needed help on offense, New England took Devin McCourty at cornerback. In 2011, when the pass rush needed work, the Patriots took Nate Solder at tackle. In 2017, coming off a fifth Super Bowl title, New England traded out of the first round and didn’t pick until the third. And last year, the first without Tom Brady, New England traded back from No. 23 and took not a quarterback, but a Division II safety in Kyle Dugger with its first pick in the second round.

Add to these tales the drafting of some “wait, who?” names such as Tavon Wilson, Jordan Richards and Ras-I Dowling, and you paint the picture of a coach and de facto GM who likes to throw more curveballs than Clayton Kershaw.

I know I was expecting one. I was ready for the trade down, the drop to No. 27 or something, where the Patriots would take a defensive tackle or edge-setting linebacker, with the quarterback plan remaining TBD. That’s the curveball I was expecting.

And Belichick threw a fastball over the plate. Given the right setup, even that can be the pitch you least expect.

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