If you're a New England Patriots fan, there's reason for optimism entering 2023. Veteran offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien should be a dramatic upgrade from Matt Patricia and is expected to help Mac Jones get back on track after a rough Year 2.
But what about 2024 and beyond? Jones is set to hit unrestricted free agency in 2025, and the team will need to decide next spring whether to pick up his fifth-year option (which could be worth north of $ 30 million), offer him a new long-term deal or move on.
Another factor in that decision? Backup quarterback Bailey Zappe is on a much cheaper deal, making less than $ 1.3 million each year through 2025. On a new Patriots Talk Podcast, our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran broke down the numbers for colleague Phil Perry to make an intriguing financial case for Zappe over Jones.
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"That $ 45 million franchise tag and the $ 35 million fifth-year option and the realization that, come hell or high water, (Jones is) probably going to make about $ 33 million dollars a year on the next deal -- even if they get out easy on it, they're paying $ 150 million dollars on his contract -- that profound difference between the $ 4.25 million dollar cap hit right now and $ 30 or $ 40 million is insane," Curran told Perry.
"So, to me, I look a little further down the roster and I look at Bailey Zappe. He’s under contract track through 2025. His cap hits are all lower than $ 1.3 million. In 2025, the Patriots can have a reasonable facsimile of Mac Jones, depending upon how Bailey Zappe performs, at $ 1.3 million dollars. $ 1.3 (million) or $ 45 (million). Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe. Imagine the stuff you can buy with $ 44 million worth of cap space?"
New England Patriots
That financial argument makes sense in a vacuum. If the gap between Jones and Zappe isn't that large, why not save nearly $ 45 million by letting Jones walk and using the extra cash to load up around Zappe?
Perry offered a sobering warning about taking that path, however.
"We'll find out in Year 3 what Mac Jones is. But boy, if you put all your eggs in that Bailey Zappe basket, you’ve got to know what you’re getting yourself into," Perry saide. "He was drafted where he was drafted (fourth round in 2022) for a reason. He’s considered, league-wide, to be a backup quarterback.
"Tom Brady was too, so you can say, 'Well, the league’s not always right.' And they’re not always right. But do you want to build up your team and have a pretty good team because you can spend all that money everywhere else and say goodbye to somebody who might be good -- again, Year 3, we’ll find out with Mac Jones -- to hand the keys to a Brock Purdy type?"
Zappe flashed signs of being a capable NFL quarterback last season, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 497 yards with three touchdown passes and just one interception in back-to-back wins over the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. He came back to earth the following week against the Chicago Bears, however, and to Perry's point, he doesn't seem to have the arm talent or the athleticism to be anything more than a game manager.
The question is whether the Patriots feel the same way, and if Jones doesn't take a significant step forward in 2023, whether they'd seriously consider letting Zappe (or another QB they target in a future NFL Draft) take the keys to the offense.
To hear more of Curran and Perry's Jones vs. Zappe debate, as well as their breakdowns of every other offensive position on New England's roster, subscribe to the Patriots Talk Podcast or watch on YouTube below.