As the March 15 start of the new NFL league year approach, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots roster.
Who’s returning? Who could be out the door? What are the biggest questions facing each group?
First up: the quarterbacks.
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
Jones (14 games, all starts): 65.2% completion rate, 6.8 yards per attempt, 14 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 84.8 passer rating, 36.1 QBR
Zappe (four games, two starts): 70.7% completion rate, 8.5 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, three interceptions, 100.9 passer rating, 34.4 QBR
Hoyer (one game, one start): 5-for-6, 37 yards
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Can Bill O’Brien fix Jones? The Patriots addressed their biggest offseason need when they hired the fiery, experienced O’Brien to be their new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Now, it’ll be up to the former Alabama OC and his new-look offensive staff to expel some of the bad habits Jones developed under Matt Patricia and Joe Judge’s disastrous reign and rekindle the franchise QB potential he showed as a rookie.
Jones clashed with both Patricia and Judge — neither of whom had prior experience in their 2022 roles — lost his trademark poise and confidence behind a suspect offensive line and saw his numbers decline across the board this season. He ranked 30th among qualified passers in QBR (just behind Zach Wilson) and 28th in EPA/play (ahead of only Carson Wentz, Davis Mills and Baker Mayfield), and his 14 touchdown passes were the fewest by any QB who started more than 12 games.
With his proven track record of offensive success, prior Patriots experience, no-nonsense demeanor and shared Bama connection, O’Brien was the perfect choice to steward Jones in what will be a make-or-break third season for the 24-year-old signal-caller. His arrival should inspire optimism that Jones can rebound from his forgettable 2022 campaign and lead New England’s offense back to respectability in 2023.
If Jones can’t elevate his game even with a legitimate coordinator/QBs coach now in his corner, then the Patriots will know he’s not their long-term answer at the game’s most important position.
2. Will there be any QB controversy? There’s a not-insignificant portion of the Patriots fanbase that still believes Zappe, not Jones, should be the team’s starting quarterback. They saw the way the 2022 fourth-round draft pick played while Jones was out with a high ankle sprain and remain convinced he’s New England’s best option.
It would be a major surprise if Jones did not open the season as QB1, but if he struggles at any point this summer or fall, those calls to play his understudy will only grow louder. The pressure is on Jones — who, again, should be in a much better situation this season than he was a year ago — to perform well early and snuff out any debate over whether he deserves to keep his job.
3. What happens with Hoyer? The 37-year-old started in place of an injured Jones in Week 4, but he quickly suffered a concussion and spent the rest of the season as a form of in-house QB insurance, never returning from injured reserve while Zappe served as the top backup.
MassLive.com’s Mark Daniels reported Hoyer does not plan on retiring this offseason, and cutting him now wouldn’t make much sense, since doing so would create less than $300,000 in salary cap space while leaving behind $1.6 million in dead money. In all likelihood, the Patriots will hang on to all three QBs for the time being, then decide before the season whether to roster the full group or just roll with Jones and Zappe.
New England also could add a developmental prospect to this group if there’s one who catches their eye during or after the NFL draft.