With test results on Monday morning showing that New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones suffered a “pretty severe” high ankle sprain against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, the likelihood is that he will miss some time while recovering. The timetable is yet to be determined, but the Patriots will have to look for a new starting QB for the immediate future.
Where will they turn? They have some options available, both in-house and on the free agent market. With that said, let’s take a look at some of them to assess where they might be headed if Jones is indeed forced to miss some time.
Brian Hoyer: The most experienced quarterback on New England’s roster and Jones’ primary backup for the first three weeks of the season, Hoyer comes with considerable experience: he has appeared in 77 regular season and playoff games with 39 starts — including one for the Patriots in 2020 — over the course of his 14 years in the NFL. While he has not yet seen the field this season, the 36-year-old appears to be the next man to be called up if the Patriots opt to replace Jones in-house.
Bailey Zappe: Zappe originally joined the Patriots as a fourth-round draft pick out of Western Kentucky earlier this year. After re-writing the NCAA record books during his 2021 campaigns with the Hilltoppers, he had a relatively quiet first training camp and preseason: Zappe was locked into the QB3 spot from the get-go and never quite managed to threaten Hoyer’s standing on the roster; he will likely move to QB2 if Hoyer gets the starting job during Jones’ absence.
Free agent options
Cam Newton: The last quarterback to start a game for the Patriots before the dawn of the Mac Jones era, Cam Newton remains available in free agency. While the team and its offense have changed quite a bit since the 2020 season that saw him start 15 games, Newton knows the organization and would bring a different dimension to an attack that will change anyway with Jones not under center.
Garrett Gilbert: Gilbert has been a career journeyman, whose stops twice included the Patriots. He spent time on the team’s practice squad in 2014 and as recently as 2021. His starter-level upside is limited, but his experience with the organization and in the league as a whole might make him an attractive third-string depth option behind Hoyer and Zappe.
A.J. McCarron: Everything that applies to Garrett Gilbert can also be said about A.J. McCarron, without the Patriots connection. That said, the 32-year-old has seen played quite a bit of football over the course of his nine-year career in the league, and did spend his college career in a New England-like environment: he won three National Championships at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban.
Mike Glennon: A 31-game starter in the NFL, Glennon has a connection to the Patriots through quarterbacks coach Joe Judge: he started four games for the New York Giants last year, when Judge served as their head coach. His success was... well, he’s a free agent now, so that should tell you all you need to know. Still, he has some QB3 qualities based on his experience.
Blake Bortles: The former first-round draft pick and Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback will likely not start any games for the Patriots, but he might be an option to be added to the mix to offer some experience behind Hoyer. He is the least likely name on that list to join the team, but still one of the better options available — which says all you need to know about the free agent crop of quarterbacks.
Realistically, the Patriots will not turn to the free agents listed here but rather hand the keys over to Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe as their new one-two punch. How effective this arrangement will be remains to be seen, but Hoyer’s experience in the system and with New England’s pass catcher is unparalleled and gives him an advantage over all other options available.
As far as the free agent options are concerned, it seems unlikely the Patriots will add any to the mix with the intention of challenging Hoyer or Zappe’s standing on the depth chart. However, a third QB for practice purposes might make sense — be it Gilbert or Glennon or somebody else entirely such as former Patriots D’Eriq King or Brian Lewerke.