Bill Belichick reportedly is prepared to part ways with Mac Jones.
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio on Tuesday reported Belichick has shopped Jones to multiple teams this offseason.
Rumors of discontent between Belichick and his third-year quarterback have circulated for months. But trading Jones after the failed Matt Patricia/Joe Judge coaching experiment undeniably marred his 2022 season would be a drastic and controversial move, especially since owner Robert Kraft and other team leaders have been vocal advocates for the young signal-caller.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should ease last season’s offensive chaos and help Jones regain the promise he showed as a rookie in 2021. The two have a prior relationship from their brief overlap at Alabama, and unlike Patricia and Judge, O’Brien’s been running offenses and coaching QBs for years.
But if the coach-player relationship between Belichick and Jones is irreparable and the team opts to offload its 2021 first-round draft pick, O’Brien will have a different starting signal-caller to work with in his return to New England.
Who would take over if Jones departs? Here a few potential options:
Zappe’s the only other QB currently on the roster, and he played better than anyone could have anticipated while filling in for an injured Jones last October. The Patriots’ two highest point totals of the season (38 against Cleveland; 29 against Detroit) came in the two games Zappe started. Those both were against bad defenses, though, and the fourth-round rookie came back to Earth in his final outing, throwing two second-half interceptions in a relief appearance against Chicago.
Did Belichick see enough from Zappe in his four-game cameo to believe he’s a better option than Jones? Or at least a comparable one, able to perform at a similar level and allow the team to acquire an asset by flipping Jones? Maybe. ESPN’s Mike Reiss did report Zappe “was seeing an increase in practice reps by the end of last season,” and Belichick has turned down numerous opportunities to say Jones definitively will start over Zappe if healthy, including one last week.
But giving up on Jones and handing the reins to Zappe off such a small sample size would be a gamble. The NFL-wide hit rate on fourth-round QBs also is very low.
Zappe came to the Patriots after a record-setting season at Western Kentucky, throwing for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 2021. The soon-to-be 24-year-old completed 70.7% of his passes as a New England rookie, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and three INTs while posting a 100.7 passer rating.
This is where many fans’ minds surely went after seeing Florio’s report. Jackson is one of the most uniquely talented players in football when he’s healthy, and we don’t yet know where he’ll be playing this season as his contract stalemate with the Baltimore Ravens drags on. At least three prominent outlets last week reported the Patriots were not expected to pursue the 2019 NFL MVP, but would that change if they shipped out Jones?
Bringing in Jackson would be a major, franchise-shaping investment, both financially and in terms of compensation. His ceiling as a player is significantly higher than Jones’ but is he worth what it would take to acquire him?
We broke down the pros and cons of a potential Jackson pursuit after Kraft said he heard the 26-year-old wants to play for the Patriots:
Wait, didn’t Garoppolo just sign a three-year, $72.8 million with Las Vegas? That’s true. But Florio’s report specifically spotlighted the Raiders as “the ones to keep watching” as a potential landing spot for Jones, adding that Garoppolo’s deal “lands in the low-end of middle class for starters.”
If Josh McDaniels prefers Jones to Garoppolo — and Belichick, vice versa — could the Patriots and Raiders swing a trade involving both QBs? Perhaps Belichick believes Garoppolo, whom he begrudgingly traded away in 2017, would give New England a better chance to win now than Jones.
Injuries have been a huge issue for the 31-year-old, but he’s an above-average starter when he can stay on the field, taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2019 and the NFC Championship Game in 2021.
We’re scraping the barrel here, but with the Texans listed as one of the potential suitors for Jones, Mills’ name is worth mentioning. The Stanford product was one of the NFL’s worst statistical quarterbacks in his first two pro seasons and he’d be the underdog in a QB competition against Zappe if he came to New England.
But there was some buzz about Mills as a potential Patriots target ahead of the 2021 draft, during which they took Jones at No. 15 overall, and his two Houston teams both were terrible. Maybe Belichick sees some potential there. Again, scraping the bottom.
A rookie QB
It would be a massive surprise if a 2023 draft pick started for the Patriots this season. But if Belichick trades Jones and doesn’t replace him with a proven commodity like Jackson, would they make a play for one of this year’s top QB prospects?
C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young likely will be out of reach barring an unprecedented trade-up, but what about Anthony Richardson, the raw but wildly talented dual threat out of Florida? The Patriots met with him at the NFL Scouting Combine, and NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein had him falling to them at No. 14 in his latest mock draft.
Draft Richardson and let Bill O’Brien groom him while he learns behind Zappe? That could be an enticing possibility for New England.