New England Patriots

  • With Monday night’s report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it seems all but certain Patriots starting quarterback Mac Jones will miss at least a few games while he recovers from a high ankle sprain.

    While there are still a handful of questions regarding Jones’ situation (will he have surgery, how long will he be out) there’s also the matter of who takes his place for the Patriots under center. This will be the first time since Week 4 of the 2020 season, and only the second time in the last 14 years the Patriots will need to turn to a backup QB to start a game.

    The Patriots have three (yes, three) options facing them with a week to prepare for their trip to Green Bay to face the Packers. While it’s been heavily suggested that veteran Brian Hoyer will get the nod, things can change quickly in these types of situations, especially if Jones is out for a longer period of time. Given that, let’s take a closer look at each of their options.


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  • Brian Hoyer

    Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  New England Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer (5) warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer (5) warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Hoyer was the last Patriots ‘backup’ quarterback to start a game, when he filled in for Cam Newton on short notice after a positive COVID test. While Hoyer did some things early in that game that helped the Patriots hang with the defending Super Bowl champions, he also made some questionable decisions (the clock mismanagement at the end of the first half being the defining moment of that game) that allowed Kansas City to pull away in the second half.

    Even with that mark on his most recent start, Hoyer still represents the safe – or safest if that sounds better – option for the Patriots right now. His experience is a valuable asset at this point in a multitude of ways.

    “You’re talking about a guy with 10-plus years in this league,” Nelson Agholor told reporters on Sunday. “I think he’s a great quarterback, and he has great ability.”

    “Brian is a vet. He knows the system. He knows the reads. He knows the coaches,” Kendrick Bourne noted, highlighting Hoyer’s experience with the specifically. “He just knows everything about this organization.”

    If Jones isn’t going to miss a ton of time, and the Patriots want to do their best to continue to be competitive and remain in the playoff hunt when he gets back, Hoyer would make the most sense. Given the way the team values every single game, that’s what makes him the favorite for the job.

  • Bailey Zappe

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots didn’t draft Zappe in the fourth round this spring because they don’t believe in him. However there’s a reason no other team took him before that – he’s viewed as a multi-year developmental project player.

    Zappe has played plenty of football in his career. He was a three-year starter at FCS Houston Baptist, before transferring to Western Kentucky for his final season. In his lone year with the Hilltoppers, Zappe broke Joe Burrow’s single-season Division-I records for passing yards (5,967) and touchdowns (62), while leading Division-I in completion percentage (69.3) and passer rating (167.5). He did all that while posting one of the lowest interception rates in college football (1.6 percent, 18th among qualified passers).

    However, the jump in competition level is big. Zappe did have success when punching above his weight class in college, but the NFL is another animal. While Belichick did note Zappe “has gotten a lot better” since joining the Patriots in April, it’s tough to say whether or not he’s ready to lead an NFL offense.

    Starting Zappe would be about answering that question – putting him out there and seeing how he does. If Zappe does show promise, the Patriots not only remain competitive but suddenly have a valuable commodity in a young quarterback, who they could potentially look to trade in the offseason for an early return on their investment. Or, Zappe could come up short setting the Patriots up with more favorable draft position in the spring instead of being stuck in the no-man’s land that is the teams that just miss the playoffs.

    The team could turn to Zappe immediately, or more likely put him in if Hoyer struggles. However, this plan would really only work if Jones is going to miss an extended period of time. If he’s only going to miss three or four weeks, as some have suggested he could if he undergoes the new ‘tightrope‘ surgery, there may not be enough time to fully evaluate Zappe even if he does play.

  • External options

    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 21: Garrett Gilbert #19 of the Washington Football Team looks to pass as Derek Barnett #96 of the Philadelphia Eagles defends during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 21, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    Of course, the Patriots could always go outside the organization if they feel like they need a more dynamic playmaker with more NFL experience. This could come via free agency (Cam Newton’s name has been all over Twitter since Sunday afternoon) or even a trade.

    Realistically, this option is highly unlikely. Pretty much any quarterback that’s a realistic starting option is already on a roster at this point, and team’s aren’t going to be quick to part with them. Even if the Patriots could find somebody they liked, that player would have to come in and learn the entire offense and build chemistry with the pass catchers at ludicrous speed.

    But while the Patriots probably won’t sign a starting quarterback while Jones is on the mend, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them sign another depth arm in the coming days – even if it’s just (and most likely) to the practice squad. They’ll need both Hoyer and Zappe fully focused in game preparation mode, leaving a need for a scout team quarterback. Plus, if Jones is going to miss extended time and anything were to happen to Hoyer or Zappe, having another QB who is familiar with the system would have its value.

    If the Patriots feel strong enough about adding another arm that they’re willing to sign someone to the active roster, they could do so off another team’s practice squad in order to add a player already in football shape. One name that stands out is former Patriot Danny Etling, who is currently on the Packers’ practice squad – which is extra interesting given the Patriots play the Packers next week. Other practice squad names to know that could make sense are Chris Streveler (Jets), Josh Rosen (Browns), Jeff Driskel (Texans), Chase Garbers (Raiders), and Jacob Eason (Panthers).

    More likely though, the Patriots would look for a free agent to add to their practice squad. Seven-year veteran Garrett Gilbert instantly comes to mind there. Gilbert has had two separate stints with the Patriots – one between the 2014-2015 seasons – and then another last year. He spent almost the entire season in Foxborough in 2021, before being signed to the then-Washington Football Team’s roster as an emergency starter in mid-December. Gilbert was with the Raiders this spring but was cut in mid-May and the 31-year-old has been unsigned since.

    The Patriots are regularly hosting free agents for workouts for situations just like this. They haven’t worked out a quarterback yet this season, but QBs they’ve had in in recent seasons who are currently free agents include Anthony Gordon, Devlin Hodges, and Jordan Ta’amu. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them have quarterbacks visit this week.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.