If Mac Jones does not pan out in the 2023 season, the Patriots might be looking elsewhere for a signal caller beginning in 2024. Let's just face the fact that while many of you do believe in Mac Jones, there is still a ton of unknown with him and there is a distinct possibility that the Patriots are starting a totally different QB in 2024.
I think Jones will need to show significant improvement in year three if he wants to stick around on the team in 2024 and beyond. Given that he is still on his rookie deal, was not a top five or 10 pick, and struggled mightily in year two, I think his leash is quite short, honestly.
And, if Mac Jones does not perform well in 2023, that likely means the Patriots aren't making the playoffs, so they may be in a position to "blow it up" if you will beginning in 2024. If that's the case, the New England Patriots might be looking to a different player to provide that QB stability that they desire.
Let's look at three options in 2024 and beyond if Mac Jones does not pan out for the Patriots.
New England Patriots: QB options in 2024 if Mac Jones does not pan out
1. Bailey Zappe
The first option to replace Mac Jones if he does not play well enough in 2023 is the projected backup quarterback. Bailey Zappe was a rookie in 2022 and did see some action due to injuries. The bad part for Mac Jones is that Zappe did look better within the offense than Jones did, and I do not think there is an appreciable drop off in talent between Jones and Zappe.
The Patriots might want to swing for the fences more and try to acquire someone who has a much higher ceiling, but they could always keep an open mind with Zappe.
2. Make a trade or sign a free agent next year (Kirk Cousins, Trey Lance, Ryan Tannehill)
For this option, there is some variability here. If the team is set on moving on from Mac Jones, and want to try to find an immediate fix at the position, they could try to scour the free agent QB market in 2024 and perhaps bring in a veteran for a year or two like Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill, who both would be entering their age-36 season in 2024.
Both have proven to be quality passers at times and could by the Patriots some time to try and find their long-term QB of the future, likely coming in the NFL Draft in 2024 or 2025. This could be a clear Band-Aid solution. They could also look to the trade market to see what else is out there, perhaps targeting someone like Trey Lance, who is getting drowned out in San Francisco.
Right now, Brock Purdy looks like he'll be ready for week one, and I think it's abundantly clear that he is their long-term starter. I do think the Niners would trade Lance for the right price, and him still being in his early-20s would be an attractive thing for a new team.
Pairing Lance with Bill O'Brien might be a great solution for the Patriots.
3. Going all-in for someone in the 2024 NFL Draft
The year after Tom Brady left New England, the Patriots turned to the free agent QB market and signed Cam Newton. Newton was clearly well past his best football years and was horribly inefficient as a passer. The Patriots had a ton more luck taking Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft and starting him immediately as a rookie, so the Patriots may be more inclined to go this way in 2024 if Jones is not the guy.
Perhaps they only win six or seven games, maybe eight. They'd have to make a bit of a jump, perhaps inside the top seven in the draft order to have a chance to land their potential long-term answer. They could also do what many teams are now doing and giving the keys to the rookie almost immediately.
Bryce Young and CJ Stroud both already look poised to start week one as a rookie, and I think NFL teams are preferring that route more than a red-shirt year. The Patriots might benefit from doing this if Mac Jones is not good enough in 2023.