Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 win, tossing three touchdowns and 257 yards on 17 attempts to earn game MVP. The power-arm passer followed that up with a victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama and a national championship-winning performance over Oregon.
After just three starts, there were plenty of calls for Jones to enter the 2015 draft. While he elected to return to college and eventually lost his starting job, his potential remained obvious.
Unfortunately for “12 Gauge,” he was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft by the Buffalo Bills, who didn’t really seem to have a plan for the project quarterback. On Wednesday, when he found out the Bills traded him to the Los Angeles Chargers, Jones began “crying tears of joy,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter – an appropriate reaction.
The Chargers offer more than just a fresh start. Between their roster situation, a coach whose confidence in Jones comes from experience, and a commitment to developing him, they might even be the ideal situation for the quarterback at this point in his career.
Jones’ best asset is his elite arm strength, but the 25-year-old needs to clean up the other aspects of his game to become an NFL starter. He can’t do that on his own. The Bills relied on a series of throwing sessions off to the side of practice and a late-game Week 17 appearance to semi-develop the former national champ, then drafted Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman and committed to Tyrod Taylor as the current starter in the offseason.
In Los Angeles, the setup is much more promising. Jones gets to sit and learn behind fellow strong-arm quarterback Philip Rivers, who’s 35 and will have to be replaced in the somewhat near future. Beyond acquiring Jones, the Chargers have done little to prepare for Rivers’ eventual retirement. They’ve held on to 34-year-old Kellen Clemens as a backup and drafted just two quarterbacks over the past decade, both in the fifth round or later.
Not selecting a passer this year was against new head coach Anthony Lynn’s wishes – but that’s only seemed to work in Jones’ favor. Lynn was Jones’ interim offensive coordinator and, briefly, his head coach in Buffalo last season. After his experience with Jones, acquiring the player for Los Angeles lets Jones know he’s going to a team that believes in him.
Lynn, aware of Jones’ physical gifts, sounds like he’s not ready to let those gifts go to waste.
“Cardale is a good young talent, and he’s going to add competition behind Philip Rivers,” Lynn told the Chargers’ website Wednesday night. “He’s the type of quarterback you want waiting on the runway.
“He’s going to have the opportunity to come on the field and compete. Cardale is someone we think can be developed.”
And if Jones is particularly concerned with the stardom element of his pro career, Los Angeles is a big improvement on the relative obscurity (and brutal weather) of Buffalo.
For those who remember Jones’ surprisingly strong passes and continuous first-down scrambles from his 2014 national championship run, this move should inspire optimism and belief in second chances.
Many quarterbacks show big-league potential in college but get pushed aside due to a simple stumble. Jones has fallen into a refreshing situation that has the potential to be just as rewarding for him as it could be for his new team.
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