New England Patriots

Report sheds light on Patriots' QB plan in NFL Draft, free agency

The chance to take a franchise QB with the No. 3 pick is hard to pass up.

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The New England Patriots need to make a change at quarterback following a disastrous 2023 season that saw them sink to the bottom of the AFC standings with a 4-13 record.

Neither Mac Jones nor Bailey Zappe represent a good short- or long-term option at the position. Their inability to protect the football was a huge issue for the offense and one of the primary reasons why it scored a league-low 13.9 points per game.

So, what's the plan to improve at quarterback?

MassLive's Mark Daniels, Chris Mason and Karen Guregian reported Thursday that the Patriots "are planning to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. One NFL executive, outside of New England, relayed that it’s widely expected in league circles that quarterbacks will be selected with the first three picks in April."

But that's not all.

Instead of having Jones or Zappe be the backup, MassLive reports, citing a source, that "the Patriots plan on signing a veteran free agent quarterback, too. The team is in no rush to start a rookie immediately and could play that veteran if they think it would benefit the younger quarterback to sit for a season."

🔊 Patriots Talk Podcast: Eliot Wolf reiterates Patriots’ plan for sweeping change at NFL Combine | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

It might be enticing to take a generational wide receiver talent like Ohio State star Marvin Harrison Jr. with the No. 3 pick in the draft. But the Patriots have enough salary cap space to sign a wide receiver in free agency or make a trade for one.

It's also not a good year to find a long-term solution at quarterback via the free agent market. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield are the best options by far, but they might not even leave their current teams. Each player would also be super expensive to sign, which limits how much cap space the Patriots would have to address other weak spots on offense.

For all of these reasons, and others, it just makes too much sense for the Patriots to select a quarterback in the first round. It's the easiest way to build an elite team. Just look at the NFL playoff teams from this past season. Seven of the eight clubs that reached the Divisional Round had a starting QB who was a first-round pick.

USC's Caleb Williams is the consensus top prospect in the 2024 draft class and is projected to go No. 1 overall to the Chicago Bears in nearly all expert mock drafts. The other two Tier 1 quarterbacks in the class are LSU's Jayden Daniels and UNC's Drake Maye.

"A former NFL general manager told me, listen, all three of these guys at the top -- Williams, Maye, Daniels -- all have different strengths and weaknesses," our Patriots insider Phil Perry said on the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast.

"They all have their weaknesses, and if you get scared off by them, he would get it. That's how he described it to me. But this former GM says they also all have a chance to be stars, and you don't often have that opportunity with the No. 3 overall pick. And so, at least for him, he's expecting the Patriots to take a quarterback at No. 3 overall."

The plan to draft a QB at No. 3 and sign a veteran backup who can begin the 2024 season as the starter, or be in that role the whole campaign, is a model that's worked for a lot of teams. We've seen plenty of first-round quarterbacks start on Day 1 and fail to reach their potential. Some of them aren't ready, others can't handle the pressure. (Perry sees pending free agent Jacoby Brissett as a potential fit in that veteran backup role.)

The Green Bay Packers sat first-round picks Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love in their rookie years. Each of them benefited from learning behind a veteran starter. And given Patriots director of player personnel Eliot Wolf's ties to the Packers organization, it's not a surprise that this reported QB plan appeals to New England.

There's still almost two months between now and the draft in April. A lot could change, and the Patriots still need to do further evaluation of the top quarterback prospects. But the smartest play all along has been drafting a QB at No. 3, and based on all the reporting so far, it sounds like that's what the Patriots are leaning toward doing.

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