Phil Perry

Malik Cunningham or Will Grier? Why Belichick needs to make a choice

The Patriots need to prioritize figuring out their QB situation outside Mac Jones.

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FOXBORO -- We have a difference of opinion when it comes to quarterback reps at One Patriot Place.

I asked Bill O'Brien about whether or not the team had to settle on a No. 2 quarterback moving forward in order to give Mac Jones' backup enough reps to be prepared to play. The Patriots offensive coordinator indicated that there are plenty of reps to go around, and so whichever quarterback ended up as the guy behind Jones, there would be ways in which he could be properly evaluated and prepped.

But when Bill Belichick was asked a similar question about 24 hours later on Wednesday, he acknowledged that reps are hard to come by at the game's most important position. I asked Belichick specifically about Will Grier -- who was inactive in New England's Week 6 loss to the Raiders -- and whether or not there are enough reps available to him in order to see what the relative newcomer can do in the Patriots offense.

"Yeah, well, there are never enough reps for the quarterback," Belichick said. "One quarterback takes all the reps and that’s still sometimes not enough for him. He could go longer. It’s just, you have to manage the rest of the team. When you start splitting that up with other players, then there’s not enough reps for them either.

"Quarterback is a position that can – assuming that the quarterback is healthy – they can probably take more reps than any other player on the team and a plethora of reps. It’s just a question of how many the rest of your team can take. So, that’s the way it always is. I don’t think there’s any change."

If that's the case; if those reps for backups are so limited, and if the Patriots have three backup options -- which is how it looks right now with Grier, Bailey Zappe and Malik Cunningham all on the active roster -- then is it realistic to see what Grier could be in the offense moving forward?

"Yeah, look, I don’t know," Belichick said. "We do the best we can to evaluate all the players that we have. That’s all I can tell you."

The Patriots evaluated Cunningham last week and determined that he was capable of being the No. 2 behind Jones, with Zappe as the emergency third option and unable to play unless both Jones and Cunningham were ruled out due to injury.

If the Patriots want to see what they have in the undrafted rookie out of Louisville with limited practice snaps to give him, then perhaps they'll give him what's available and roll with him as the No. 2 for the foreseeable future. And there may be merit in that. Perhaps it would give the Patriots a glimpse at how it would look to have a mobile passer behind center -- at least in a practice setting -- and help protect what has been a shoddy offensive line.

I asked Belichick on Wednesday if he'd be comfortable with Cunningham running the offense for something approaching a full complement of snaps at quarterback, if it ever came to that.

"I mean, look," Belichick said. "He’s a young player, so he’s improving. We’ll see how it goes."

I followed up to ask if Belichick would be comfortable with Cunningham coming in early in a game if he was the No. 2. 

"If he was the No. 2," Belichick said, "that's what it would be."

Belichick would not say whether or not Cunningham would be the No. 2 in Week 7 against the Bills.

"We’ll work our way through the roster situation as we go through the week," Belichick said. "We’re not going to talk about how we’re going to play the game."

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There are individuals in leadership positions in the organization who would like to see the Patriots continue to give Cunningham practice reps at quarterback and expand the package of plays he was prepared to run in Las Vegas. The thinking is, why not?

One reason why not? Could be because the team would like to see what Grier can do.

The Patriots already have a very good idea of what Zappe is at this point. He's not the answer. But Grier is the veteran option behind Jones who remains a bit of an unknown in the Patriots offense. If there are only so many reps in practice to go around -- and if they want to maximize what they get out of those snaps -- then Belichick may have to choose between finding out what he has in Cunningham and what he has in Grier.

In any other year, that kind of decision might qualify as a shoulder-shrug-worthy storyline. But in a season like this one -- where the Patriots have a 1.7 percent chance of making the postseason, per Sumer Sports -- finding out what the organization has at quarterback, even in their lower-level investments, should be a priority.

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