The New England Patriots can't go into the 2024 NFL season with Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe as their starting quarterback.
We have enough of a sample from last season and this year that shows neither player is a viable franchise QB. The latest example came Sunday when Jones and Zappe combined to complete 21 of 35 pass attempts for just 135 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions in a 10-7 loss to a New York Giants team that entered Week 12 giving up 25.9 points per game.
If Jones and Zappe aren't the answer, then who can the Patriots target in the offseason to be the next leader of their offense?
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Here's a list of potential quarterbacks the Patriots could acquire through the draft, free agency or the trade market.
2024 NFL Draft
- Caleb Williams, USC
- Drake Maye, UNC
- Jayden Daniels, LSU
- Bo Nix, Oregon
- Michael Penix Jr., Washington
- Quinn Ewers, Texas
- J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
- Michael Pratt, Tulane
This QB class has been praised quite a bit by experts, and there's a lot to like when you look at the numbers and the film. Of course, we also said that about the 2021 class when Trevor Lawrence (No. 1), Zach Wilson (No. 2), Trey Lance (No. 3), Justin Fields (No. 11) and Mac Jones (No. 15) were all picked in the first round. Only Lawrence looks like the real deal.
But the depth of this class really stands out. Ewers, McCarthy and Pratt are all really talented and likely will go on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft. Taking an offensive tackle and/or wide receiver early in the draft and then taking a chance on one of those three quarterbacks wouldn't be a bad idea.
If the Patriots did end up with the No. 1 pick, it would be hard not to take Williams. Sure, USC finished below expectations this season and Williams had a couple lackluster performances. But he also was under tremendous pressure to be perfect because of an awful Trojans defense that's allowing 34.9 points per game, which ranks 123rd among 133 FBS schools.
Williams still completed a career-high 68.6 percent of his passes for 3,633 yards with 30 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 136 yards and 11 more touchdowns. He has all the physical traits you want in an NFL QB, and he can also make plays with his legs.
Maye is a fantastic passer, too, but he finished the regular season on a sour note. He completed less than 60 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions over his final three games, and UNC went 1-2 during that span. Still, Maye is a very exciting prospect with his arm strength and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds.
Jayden Daniels could experience a dramatic rise up the draft rankings in the coming months. The likely Heisman Trophy winner helped lead LSU to nine wins this season -- an impressive feat considering how bad the Tigers' defense played.
Daniels has completed 72.2 percent of his pass attempts for 3,812 yards with 40 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also makes a tremendous impact with his legs, tallying 1,134 yards (8.4 per carry) and 10 touchdowns on the ground. A dual-threat QB with over 50 games of starter experience between two schools in different conferences help make Daniels an intriguing prospect.
Nix and Penix are two of the most experienced players in college football. Nix is in his fifth season and Penix is in Year 6. They are both older prospects, but maybe the most NFL-ready of the group.
- Kirk Cousins
- Ryan Tannehill
- Jacoby Brissett
- Marcus Mariota
- Tyrod Taylor
- Sam Darnold
- Jameis Winston
- Bakey Mayfield
- Gardner Minshew
- Josh Dobbs
Great quarterbacks rarely get to free agency, so it's no surprise that the 2024 class is shaping up to be a lackluster one.
Cousins is a proven veteran with seven 4,000-yard seasons, but his lack of playoff success and the fact that he's coming off a torn Achilles should make teams hesitant to give him a ton of money.
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Baker Mayfield has actually performed fairly well for the Buccaneers this season, but he's far from a franchise quarterback.
Most of the quarterbacks on this list are backups in an ideal scenario. If one is your starter, you're probably not a playoff team. Therefore, the only reason to sign one of these players is if the Patriots draft a QB and want a veteran to serve as the backup. Having a young, inexperienced backup like Zappe hasn't proven to be a winning formula.
- Kyler Murray, Cardinals
- Derek Carr, Saints
- Justin Fields, Bears
Trades involving top-tier quarterbacks are rare. Most of the time, these deals involve players who might benefit from a change of scenery, notably a new coach and a new offensive system.
Murray is an interesting case. He's a very good dual-threat QB when healthy. Murray's massive contract extension -- five years and $230 million ($160 million guaranteed) -- has the potential to be a salary cap problem for any team acquiring him if he fails to meet expectations. That contract doesn't expire until after the 2028 campaign.
Carr is an average quarterback. He's better than Jones and Zappe, but he's also not a player who's going to lead a team on a deep playoff run. He signed a four-year, $150 million deal ($100 million guaranteed) with the Saints back in March. If the Patriots are going to spend that kind of money on a QB, it should be for someone better than Carr.
Fields has shown flashes of exciting potential. In fairness, he hasn't been surrounded with a ton of high-end talent at the skill positions in Chicago, although he probably would face that same issue if he came to New England. The Bears might elect to give Fields another chance to prove he's a franchise QB, but they'll have plenty of options if they end up with two top-five picks (their own and Carolina's) in the 2024 draft.