The stage appears set for a legitimate quarterback competition in New England this summer.
Head coach Bill Belichick last week said the Patriots will start whoever the “best player” is at the position, suggesting incumbent starter Mac Jones will need to prove he deserves to keep his job over second-year backup Bailey Zappe.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reinforced that notion in a column Wednesday, saying he believes Belichick “is going to make Jones earn his spot back” in spring practice and training camp. Breer also reported the Patriots’ coaching staff didn’t see a huge gap separating the two signal-callers by the end of last season.
I do think Belichick is going to make Jones earn his spot back, and that’ll leave the door open for Bailey Zappe to compete for it. How does he compare? By the end of last year, the coaches didn’t think there was a massive chasm between the two. Jones has the physical edge, but not by a mile. Jones is also incredibly football smart, but Zappe’s sharp, too, and last year’s staff felt like Zappe closed any gap there by following the coach when Jones didn’t.
I will say both look to be in a position to get rolling. Jones has been in the Patriots facility on a daily basis as of late, lifting, studying and popping into the offices of the new offensive staff. Zappe has been, too. So it’ll be interesting to follow this through the spring and summer.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss also reported last week that Zappe “was seeing an increase in practice reps by the end of last season.” The 2022 fourth-round draft pick played well as a rookie, guiding the Patriots to wins in each of his two starts and posting a 100.7 passer rating over his four appearances.
Multiple subsequent reports indicated it was more of a “gauging interest” situation, not outright shopping. But it’s been clear from Belichick’s public comments over the last six months that he’s not sold on Jones as the Patriots’ long-term — or even short-term — answer at the game’s most important position.