There is one question on the mind of New England Patriots fans everywhere, who should be the franchise’s starting quarterback moving forward?
The Patriots appear to have two options. Mac Jones, who entered the season as New England’s unquestioned starter and is coming off a tremendous rookie campaign in which he led the team to the postseason. Or, Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round rookie who quickly moved from third string to undefeated through his first two career starts. The story is well known by now, with Jones getting injured in Week 3 and finding himself out of the lineup for a while. That opened the door for Zappe to become the No. 2, before quickly taking over as the starter following Brian Hoyer’s untimely injury. Zappe has played well, Jones didn’t look too hot before he was injured, and a QB competition was born.
There are obvious cases to be made for both, something that has been touched on in length by fans on either side, as well as those with a keen eye on the situation down in Foxboro.
Those same reporters down at Gillette Stadium seem to have made it clear that Jones will return to the head of the table when that ankle is healthy enough, which may even come this week on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears.
But even if he’s the best option currently available to New England, does Jones have to be the Patriots’ guy moving forward?
Given the way the NFL landscape is moving, there may be an extreme decision that will have to be made on Jones in the near future. If the Patriots decide he’s the man they want to lead them at quarterback, they’re eventually going to have to pay him that way. Say the Patriots continue to win at the same clip they have been under Jones, or even if they continue to improve slightly, a quarterback who can guide his team to the postseason isn’t something to be scoffed at. In fact, it’s quite the commodity that some NFL teams would die for. (We’re looking at you Chicago.) The fact of the matter is, Jones has been good enough to eventually get paid. Is he going to break the bank like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes did with their first non-rookie contracts, probably not. But, that doesn’t mean the Patriots could escape making a significant investment on him if they choose to keep him around.
Jared Goff (four-year, $134 million), Derek Carr (five-year, $125 million) and Carson Wentz (four-year, $128 million) are all examples of Pro-Bowl level quarterbacks who signed an extension off their rookie deal with the team that drafted them. In the case of Goff and Wentz, those teams quickly moved on and ended up in better shape for it. The Los Angeles Rams eventually flipped Goff and some picks for Matthew Stafford, who immediately led them to a Super Bowl victory. The Philadelphia Eagles lost Wentz in the middle of his best-ever season, but still won the Super Bowl without him, drafted his replacement a few years later and are the last undefeated team standing in 2022. The Las Vegas Raiders? Well, they extended Carr for a second time and have never won a playoff game in his nine seasons as starting quarterback.
Do those examples spell out exactly what will happen with Jones? Of course not. He’s still only 24 years old and has only started 21 career games, there’s room for improvement. The only question is, how much can he improve? What made him so enticing as a prospect was his high floor, he does not have an astronomical ceiling — like many other players have shown they possess.
Lamar Jackson is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, and though he’ll likely be franchised each of the next two years should he and the Ravens not come to a long-term agreement, his eventual free agency would coincide with Jones’. That’s just one potential option for those who would like to dream very far down the road. As we all know with the NFL, crazy things will happen to shake up the landscape of the league.
At the end of the day, Jones is the currently best option at quarterback for the New England Patriots. That just shouldn’t stop the team from staying alert to the possibility of making an upgrade.