The New England Patriots are open to the idea of a legitimate quarterback competition under what will be a new and improved offense this season with Bill O’Brien making his return as the offensive coordinator in what should be a revamped offense in comparison to what we all witnessed last season.
O’Brien is going to dissect the quarterback situation with an unbiased perspective and find the right guy to lead New England to success this season and perhaps in the future. There’s currently four quarterbacks on New England’s roster and it’s expected to be three by the start of the season.
Let’s evaluate the quarterbacks:
Mac Jones is entering his third season with his third offensive coordinator in New England after leading the team to the playoffs as a rookie in 2021. He is the prototypical quarterback that the Patriots enjoy having under center; he’s an intellectual thinker who processes information quickly and makes his decision accordingly as a true pocket-passer. He’s not going to beat you with his legs, or even his arm, but he’ll make the right play and that’s what matters most from the quarterback position.
In 2021, Jones finished the season as a top-16 quarterback with a QBR of 50.9 (16th), 67.6 completion percentage (8th), and 3,801 passing yards (13th) as a rookie in the NFL under a great offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels.
The following year in 2022, Jones finished the season with a QBR of 36.2 (30th), 65.2 completion percentage (17th), and 2,997 passing yards (18) in a dysfunctional offense under defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
It’s hard to believe that after a great rookie season the Patriots are suddenly out on Jones after he was given a season of dysfunction with the expectations of success in his sophomore season last year. I expect Jones to thrive this season under O’Brien.
Bailey Zappe stepped into Gillette Stadium as a fourth round selection and immediately thought he could compete for the starting quarterback position and he wasn’t wrong. Zappe played in four games and had two starts. He also took over the starting duties during the game against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football last season and looked more poised running the show than Jones.
Zappe offers the Patriots just a little more than what Jones does in the sense of offensive versatility and we saw that at the beginning of last season as the play calling was different for Jones than it was for Zappe.
By the time Zappe became the starter in Week 5 in 2022, he ran play-action on 35 percent of his drop backs, which was three-times higher than Jones’ 11 percent from the first three weeks prior with Jones as the starter.
It’s obviously no secret that utilizing play-action can unlock different elements of an offense and the numbers reflect the Patriots enjoyed Zappe more in play-action situations than they did Jones last season.
Malik Cunningham is the most interesting offseason acquisition by the Patriots for the type of player that he is and how they did it. Moments after the 2023 NFL Draft concluded, the Patriots signed Cunningham to the richest undrafted rookie free agent deal in franchise history.
Cunningham is a real-deal dual-threat quarterback out of Louisville. He has plenty of experience with over 1,000 pass attempts (66.2% completion), 9,660 passing yards and 3,179 rushing yards to go along with his 120 total touchdowns in his five-year college career.
Cunningham brings a completely different element to the Patriots than any of the other quarterbacks can offer. His style is more modern for today’s NFL and one that the Patriots have never truly been committed to, but it’s also a play style that New England knows they’ll have to eventually integrate towards sooner than later.
He would be an elite read-option and RPO threat, but the Patriots would have to commit to revamping their offense in that way. Which I think will happen, just not next season. I do, however, believe Cunningham will be on the roster in New England this season.
It’s worth mentioning that Cunningham is similar to Lamar Jackson in many ways as a dual-threat, a player that I truly believe Belichick regrets passing on two times in the 2018 NFL Draft. Not to mention O’Brien having success with a similar style of play in Houston with Deshaun Watson.
Trace McSorely had a pretty great college career at Penn State where he arguably became the best quarterback in the school’s history. He holds the top two best single season passing yards records (3614 and 3570), threw the second most passing yards (9,899), and has the second most touchdowns (77).
Ironically enough, Bill O’Brien was the head coach at Penn State until 2013, the year before McSorely was on the team, but I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Brien had some sort of contact or input into McSorely while he was the head coach at Penn State and it wouldn’t be hard to make the connection to him being in New England.
He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft and spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals. McSorely just hasn’t been in the right situation and I’m unsure New England is it for him.
In all, the quarterback position in New England isn’t terrible and it’s only going to get better with O’Brien in control. I believe Jones, Zappe, and Cunningham will be on the 53-man roster. But when it comes to who will be the Week 1 starter, I truly believe it will be whoever has the firmer grasp on the system O’Brien’s going to be running this season, which could be any of the three.