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

In retrospect, the Patriots’ interest in Mac Jones was no secret.

Bill Belichick scouted his Pro Day. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tested Jones over Zoom. Patriots evaluators interviewed him at the Senior Bowl back in January.

Jones’ interest in the Patriots, on the other hand, was lesser known.

Despite being projected to San Francisco at No. 3 overall, Jones said in his first NFL press conference Thursday that he always hoped to fall during the draft to New England.

“You want to just get the right fit, and I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along,” Jones said. “So I’m actually really happy that it happened. But it doesn’t really matter. You get picked. You got to take the opportunity and take advantage of it and learn the new system, learn the new coaches, learn the new culture, and Coach Belichick’s done a great job establishing that throughout his time in New England.”

The 22-year-old said he appreciated the team-first culture that governs everything around the football operations. It is one of several parallels that can be drawn between Belichick’s program and Alabama’s, run by Belichick’s trusted friend, Nick Saban. Jones saw plenty of Belichick during his time in college and heard much about the Patriots, including from former teammates like Damien Harris, now the Patriots’ top running back.

“It’s all about the team. And that’s kind of what I grew up knowing is being a good teammate,” Jones said. “And then obviously, winning, it comes down to winning football games, and New England’s done that. But they don’t look in the past, they just look at the future, so we’ve got to just focus on trying to win games and take it day by day and eventually you’ll win a lot of games.

“So, I’m just looking forward to getting in there and meeting my new teammates and seeing what happens from there.”

SHORTLY AFTER taking Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, Coach Bill Belichick made one thing perfectly clear during his video call with the media:

Cam Newton is still the starter in New England. For how long? Coach Bill Belichick said: “I don’t know … Somebody has to play better than he does.” Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini

Cam Newton remains his starting quarterback.

“Cam’s our quarterback,” said Belichick. “Whatever time Jarrett (Stidham) or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, we’ll see how that goes. But right now, for Mac, he’s got a lot of learning in front of him. I know he’s very anxious to get going on it, and get started.”

In other words, Newton is the incumbent and therefore leader in the clubhouse. Whether talking about Jones or Stidham, they are going to have to beat out Newton, who is likely to be the starter Week 1.

Asked how long Newton would remain the starter, Belichick said: “I don’t know … Somebody has to play better than he does.”

Belichick dodged questions about whether Jones was the Patriots’ top quarterback choice among the field of signal-callers expected to go in the first round. He also wouldn’t say if he considered moving up to make sure he landed the Alabama quarterback. He cracked that he “missed a lot of those mock drafts.”

“Mac was available there at our pick. He’s a guy we spent a lot of time with. We felt like that was probably the best pick at that time for us,” said Belichick. “We look forward to working with him. He’s a smart kid, he’s been in a system that’s similar to ours. We’ve had a lot of good conversations with him. I think he’ll be able to process the offense. It’s obviously going to take a lot of time. We’ll see how it goes.”

RAVENS: Baltimore exercised the fifth-year option for quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Jackson will make $23 million next season as part of a tiered system under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Jackson, the NFL MVP for the 2019 season, threw for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions (99.3 rating) last year. He also became the first quarterback in league history to have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

PANTHERS: Carolina upped its commitment to Sam Darnold, picking up the fifth-year option on the quarterback’s rookie contract. He will now make $18.9 million for the 2022 season.

BRONCOS: Denver exercised the fifth-year option on linebacker Bradley Chubb.

Chubb, the fifth overall pick in 2018, earned a Pro Bowl berth last season after bouncing back from a torn ACL with 7½ sacks and more than 60 quarterback knockdowns and hits.

He’s due $920,000 in base salary this season along with a $3.9 million roster bonus. Next year’s salary will jump to $12.72 million.

FALCONS: Atlanta added depth at quarterback by signing free agent A.J. McCarron to a one-year deal.

McCarron was a backup in Houston the last two seasons.

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