The New England Patriots opted not to sign an additional quarterback after Mac Jones went down with a high ankle sprain last week.
This week, they might have no choice.
With top backup Brian Hoyer leaving Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers with a concussion, the Patriots were down to just one healthy QB — fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe — as they began initial preparations for their Week 5 matchup with the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium.
It remains to be seen whether Jones and/or Hoyer will be healthy enough to play in that contest. Jones did not practice last week — though he did suit up for last Friday’s — and multiple reports have indicated he is expected to miss multiple games. The sophomore signal-caller was ruled out last Friday and did not travel to Green Bay. As for Hoyer, recovery timelines from head injuries are difficult to predict and can vary wildly, ranging from just a few days to several weeks. He did fly back with the team Sunday night, head coach Bill Belichick confirmed.
If Belichick and his training staff don’t believe either Jones or Hoyer be able to participate in New England’s first practice of the week Wednesday, adding an extra signal-caller would be necessary if only to have that player run the scout team while Zappe pilots the starting offense.
“We’ll see,” Belichick said Monday morning when asked whether the Patriots will sign another QB. “We’ll evaluate things going forward and see where things stand. I don’t know. Today’s kind of the day to reassess things, figure things out, talk to our medical staff. Postgame, most of the time it’s really inconclusive. It’s the next 24 to 48 hours. How guys respond, what tests they do and so forth — all of that information comes in usually well after the game.”
Unless the Patriots are interested in reuniting with Cam Newton, who ran a specialized offense during his one season in New England and has been unsigned since March, the list of available free agent quarterbacks is rather barren. But one who could make sense as a short-term fill-in is Garrett Gilbert, who spent most of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad before a COVID-depleted Washington Football Team signed him in mid-December.
Gilbert started for Washington four days later and performed reasonably well, going 20-for-31 for 194 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers in a 27-17 loss to Philadelphia. The 31-year-old would give the Patriots an experienced and familiar complement to Zappe and could even start over him if New England doesn’t believe the rookie is ready to do so. Gilbert briefly played for Josh McDaniels’ Raiders this past offseason but was cut when Las Vegas traded for Jarrett Stidham.
Other free agent options include A.J. McCarron, Brett Hundley, Blake Bortles, Mike Glennon, Kevin Hogan, Kyle Sloter, Anthony Gordon and Brian Lewerke. Gordon has worked out for the Patriots in the past, and the team had Lewerke in training camp in 2020. Neither has any regular-season NFL experience, however, and pairing Zappe with a veteran would be the safer choice.
If the Patriots are considering signing a QB off another team’s practice squad, the candidates there include Matt Barkley, Josh Rosen, Nathan Peterman, Sean Mannion, David Blough, Tim Boyle, Jeff Driskel, Josh Johnson and Danny Etling. If a team signs a player off another practice squad, it is required to carry him on its 53-man roster for at least three weeks. Free agents can be signed to the roster of the P-squad with no restrictions.
Hoyer, making his first start since 2020, suffered his injury in the first quarter of Sunday’s surprise thriller at Green Bay. Zappe replaced him on New England’s third offensive series and kept the Patriots in contention throughout the game, going 10-for-15 for 99 yards with one touchdown and a lost fumble. The Patriots, as 9.5-point road underdogs, held leads in all four quarters and had the ball in Packers territory in overtime before losing on a last-second Mason Crosby field goal.
“I mean, this is the first time he’s been active all season, and then you throw him into that situation and he doesn’t flinch,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said of Zappe after the game. “… Really proud of the way he came and competed.”
Belichick would not reveal who the Patriots’ emergency QB would have been had Zappe also gone down with an injury.
The loss dropped the Patriots to 1-3 on the season, setting up a vitally important matchup with visiting Detroit this Sunday. The 1-3 Lions rank last in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense but boast a wildly productive offense, leading the league in yards per game, yards per play and points per game.