Tom E. Curran

Patriots 2024 roster reset: QB overhaul remains the top priority

The Patriots need a fresh start at the game's most important position.

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Editor's Note: With the beginning of NFL free agency looming on March 13, our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran is resetting each Patriots position by assessing their 2023 performance, laying out their 2024 contract status and ranking their offseason priority on a scale of 1 to 5.

First up is the most position in football: quarterback.

Eight. Eight different quarterbacks cycled on and off the Patriots' roster in 2023. And out of those eight – Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham, Trace McSorley, Matt Corral, Will Grier, Ian Book and Nathan Rourke – none of them will be the Patriots' opening day starter in 2024.

Regardless of where the blame for the lack of offensive competency lies, the embarrassing performance at that position is the root reason the greatest coach in NFL history is currently out of work.

The Patriots could bring Jones back for the final season of his rookie contract. They could look at Zappe as their No. 2 or even as a placeholder starter until whoever they draft is ready. But the most likely and reasonable course of action is to first bring in a veteran who can start in September, run the offense and give the Patriots a chance to get past 20 points, something they did just four times in 2023.  

Aside from who they’ll bring in, the biggest questions are whether to cut ties with Jones and how they view Zappe.

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Jones can play, but the atmosphere is toxic and everyone may be better served if he’s traded during or after the draft. Zappe had some flashes in relief of Jones and he doesn’t lack in self-belief. But his limitations have been shown. He’s a backup/depth quarterback at this point. How well does he accept that role if the Patriots bring in two people above him?

That’s a consideration for head coach Jerod Mayo, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and the rest to make.  

Bright spots from 2023

We could go with none. But we’ll instead highlight Jones’ performance in the team’s unexpected come-from-behind win over the Bills (25 for 30 for 272 yards and two TDs and a game-winning throw to Mike Gesicki with 15 seconds left).

Zappe played in 10 games, starting six and showed more downfield accuracy than Jones. He is a good deep-ball thrower.

Disappointments from 2023

Start with the fact the Patriots as a team threw 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions (10 and 12 for Jones; six and nine for Zappe). Jones couldn’t take care of the ball. Neither could Zappe.

The “why” of it relative to the surrounding cast doesn’t matter for this exercise. The “why” of it relative to the quarterbacks does. Jones’ arm strength, his decision-making on the kinds of throws to make (and when) and his overall confidence doomed him.

Zappe threw too many picks and his decision-making and accuracy weren’t stellar either. Forty-one of his 212 throws were judged “Bad throws” by Pro Football Reference’s advanced stats (20.2 percent). Jones had 54 bad throws (15.4 percent).

Overall, the Patriots' quarterback play was bad.

Contract statuses for 2024

Jones is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract. His base salary is $2.785 million and his cap hit is $4.959 million when you toss in the prorated portion of his $8.695 million rookie signing bonus. If the Patriots release him, they’ll take the $5 million cap hit. If they trade him, they’ll only have the $2.173 million cap hit.

Zappe will make $985,000 this year. He’s signed through 2025.

For planning purposes, if the Patriots go quarterback at No. 3 in the 2024 NFL Draft, last year’s second overall pick – C.J. Stroud – signed a four-year, $36,279,243 deal including a $23,384,904 signing bonus.

If they sign a veteran free agent like Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo or Gardner Minshew, they’ll be in the neighborhood of $10 million.

Minshew had a one-year deal making $3.5 million last year. He had a good season in relief of rookie Anthony Richardson in Indianapolis. Brissett was paid $8 million by the Commanders. Garoppolo had a three-year, $72.5 million deal with the Raiders but was released Friday after a two-game suspension for performance-enhancers was handed down.

Offseason priority (Scale of 1-5)

It's a 5. Top priority. We could make it a 6 but we don’t want to bastardize the process.

There will be a lot of 5s as we proceed with the offense because – as we saw with Jones – without protection and a dependable go-to receiver, the quarterback’s a sitting duck. But the right blend of arm strength, mobility, poise and mental toughness is a must.

Can whoever they bring in – a veteran placeholder or first-rounder - withstand the inevitable adversity at that spot? Which is why – when debating whether or not to go quarterback at No. 3 – the Patriots need to be damn sure the kid can deal with pressure, criticism and physical abuse that await him in New England.

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