What a difference a year makes. When we did our free agency preview series last offseason, the New England Patriots faced some major questions at the most important position in the game: they had only two quarterbacks under contract at the time — Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala — and no long-term starting option available.
The Patriots did eventually bring back incumbent QB1 Cam Newton and veteran backup Brian Hoyer in free agency, but their biggest splash came in the draft. With the 15th overall selection, New England picked Mac Jones out of Alabama.
Jones eventually beat out Newton for the starting gig and went on to lead the team back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. He also has the Patriots in a comfortable position heading into this year’s offseason: the team appears to have found its quarterback of the future, meaning that only minor moves might be on the menu.
With that said, here are the QBs that are under contract at the moment:
- Mac Jones
- Jarrett Stidham
Whereas Jones is undisputed as the starter, Stidham is entering the final year of his rookie contract in a difficult position. He has some experience as a low-cost backup, but spent all of 2021 as the third-string option behind Jones and Brian Hoyer. Accordingly, the team might not be opposed to moving on from the former fourth-round draft choice.
That all hinges on the depth chart as a whole — one that also might again include New England’s lone free agent at the position:
- Brian Hoyer: Free agency profile | Status: Unrestricted free agent
Hoyer is reportedly expected to continue his career, which makes him a realistic candidate to be brought back for another season. After all, he served as a mentor for Mac Jones in 2021, and might be asked to fill a similar role again with both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree having left the team during the offseason.
That said, if New England wants to go in a different direction to add some depth behind Jones and Stidham, there are some candidates to keep an eye on.
Jacoby Brissett (UFA): A former third-round draft pick by the Patriots, Brissett has some intriguing experience both in the system and as a starter elsewhere: between stints in Indianapolis and Miami, he amassed a total of 35 starts over the course of his six-year career in the NFL. Bringing the 29-year-old back into the fold would make sense for New England, but the questions are a) whether he would be willing to play a backup role with no clear outlook at taking over as a starter, and b) how much he would command.
Andy Dalton (UFA): When it comes to experience few quarterbacks available in free agency this year can contend with Andy Dalton: the Cincinnati Bengals’ long-time starter, who spent 2021 in Chicago, has 152 starts on his career résumé. Dalton could fill a Hoyer-like mentor role in New England as well after serving as Justin Fields’ backup — and predecessor, and part-time replacement — last year. Obviously, there is no guarantee he would be willing to play that role again and sign on a cheap deal after making $10 million last season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (UFA): The Patriots have two young quarterbacks under contract, but what if they want to add the oldest one to support them? That would be career journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is 39 and arrived in the NFL in 2005. Along the way, Fitzpatrick has appeared in 166 games and spent time with all but one team in the AFC East. For him to fill that blank spot on his map, he would have to be willing to take a low-cost deal with a clear objective tied to it: support Mac Jones’ development.
Chad Henne (UFA): Another seasoned veteran — he joined the league in 2008 and will turn 37 in July — Henne spent the last four years as Patrick Mahomes’ backup in Kansas City. While bringing him aboard would not suddenly turn Mac Jones into Mahomes 2.0, it would give the team an experienced player at a relatively small cost. Obviously, though, there is no guarantee Henne would relocate for a contract offer likely not out of the Chiefs’ financial ballpark.
Marcus Mariota (UFA): After beginning his career as the second overall selection in the 2015 draft, Mariota has now firmly arrived in backup territory: he has started just six games over the last three years, and none since 2019. Nonetheless, he might be a candidate to be brought aboard by the Patriots in free agency. Mariota would not fill the Brian Hoyer role of grizzled veteran, but rather be a possible upgrade over Jarrett Stidham’s position on the roster.
A.J. McCarron (UFA): McCarron enters free agency after having spent time with five different teams over the course of his eight-year career in the NFL. While it has become clear that he is no regular starter at the pro level, the 31-year-old might have some value as a backup option or camp body. His experience playing in a Patriots-like system at Alabama is also something to potentially consider.
Colt McCoy (UFA): McCoy’s days as a starter are firmly behind him, and he is in a similar position as Brian Hoyer now: a veteran player who could offer some value to a club as an experienced backup and possible mentor for younger players on the roster. As such, the Patriots might consider him in case Hoyer is not retained for the 2022 season. At age 35, McCoy would likely also likely come cheaper than most other players available on the open market.
Tyrod Taylor (UFA): Taylor’s career is a story of him losing his starting position to younger QBs, sometimes under bizarre circumstances. That happened to him in Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles and, most recently, Houston. The Texans might want to bring him back this year, but if he is not retained and is available on the open market he might be a candidate to be brought to the Patriots under the right circumstances: him being willing to serve as a backup and taking significantly less than the $5.5 million he made in 2021.
The Patriots will obviously make no splashes at the quarterback position this year considering that they have Mac Jones under contract for at least three more seasons, and possibly a fourth if they exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie deal. Accordingly, the lone move that should be expected is bringing back Brian Hoyer on another low-cost deal for no more than two seasons.
If Hoyer decides to look for other opportunities or in fact calls it a career, however, the team has some options to bolster the group. No matter what happens, though, no major investments will be made.