The New England Patriots offense was stuck in neutral for much of the 2022 season. While the coaching staff shouldered most of the blame for this, leading to some sweeping changes already this offseason, the players themselves also cannot be left out of the discussion — especially at the most important position on the field.
Frankly, quarterback play was an issue for New England last season. Starting QB Mac Jones did not only miss time with a high ankle sprain, he also failed to build on what was an encouraging rookie season. He looked uncomfortable time and again in the team’s new-look offense, leading to some disappointing results and a statistical regression compared to 2021.
The backups did not fare much better, even though rookie Bailey Zappe had some good moments filling in during Jones’ injury-related absence. Still, he returned to emergency duty following the starter’s return and remained QB2 throughout the season.
Heading into 2023, Jones therefore sits atop the depth chart with Zappe and veteran Brian Hoyer behind him:
- Mac Jones: 24 | Signed through 2024 (+ possible 5th-year option)
- Bailey Zappe: 23 | Signed through 2025
- Brian Hoyer: 37 | Signed through 2023
While Boston sports radio is doing its best to manufacture a quarterback controversy, the fact of the matter is that the Patriots still view Mac Jones as their QB1 and are committed to building around him. When it comes to free agency, this means that no big moves should be expected.
If anything, New England might add some more experience to the equation in case Hoyer is not back in 2023; the 37-year-old remains under contract for now, but after missed the final three months of the season following a concussion there are questions about his future.
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential free agency targets for the Patriots.
Jacoby Brissett (UFA): A former third-round draft pick by the Patriots, Brissett offers plenty of experience both in the system and as a starter elsewhere: between stints in Indianapolis, Miami and, most recently, Cleveland, he amassed a total of 48 starts over the course of his seven-year career in the NFL. Bringing the 30-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.
Joshua Dobbs (UFA): At age 28, Dobbs does not fall into the Brian Hoyer “grizzled veteran” category. However, the Patriots have shown interest in him before: last offseason, the team worked Dobbs out. He ended up not joining the team, and spent 2022 between Cleveland, Detroit and Tennessee, but he might have some value as a backup with more experience than Bailey Zappe.
Blaine Gabbert (UFA): Sure, Blaine Gabbert is best remembered for never living up to the expectations of being the 10th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. However, he has been able to carve out a nice career as a backup player since leaving Jacksonville. And his experience is significant: Gabbert has appeared in 67 games with 48 starts, and most recently backed up Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. If anything, he would be a cheap replacement option if Brian Hoyer is not with the Patriots in 2023.
Taylor Heinicke (UFA): Heinicke has started 24 games over the last two seasons, and the Washington Commanders might have a vested interest in retaining him in free agency. If he does not stay put, however, he looks like a quality addition to the Patriots’ own quarterback room. Not only does Heinicke have starter-level reps on his résumé, he also has been with the organization before: he spent three weeks on the New England practice squad in 2017.
Case Keenum (UFA): Case Keenum’s career arc looks a lot like Brian Hoyer’s. Both entered the league as undrafted rookie with little fanfare, started out as depth players, got their eventual starting opportunities, and finally settled into backup roles. The 35-year-old has more starting experience than Hoyer, but is a similar player: a veteran leader who could offer support to both Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. The fact that he has experience playing under Bill O’Brien only adds to his attractiveness as a free agency option.
Marcus Mariota (UFA): Mariota is in a different position than the quarterbacks above; he already is on the open market after getting released by the Atlanta Falcons earlier this week. This means that he is already available and would not count against the compensatory draft picks formula if signed. Mariota might have aspirations to become a starter again, but if he settles for backup duty — both from a depth chart perspective and financially — New England appears to be a potential landing spot.
Obviously, the list of free agency quarterbacks is far longer than these few names. And there are some intriguing candidates out there beyond them — from ex-Patriot Jarrett Stidham, to long-time Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton, to, of course, big names such as Lamar Jackson, Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo.
At the end of the day, the six players mentioned above appear to be more realistic free agency targets than them for one reason or another. That is especially true given that all signs point towards the Patriots’ depth chart having Mac Jones as QB1 in 2023 with Bailey Zappe as a backup behind him. As can be seen, though, the team will have options to add another veteran to the group in case Brian Hoyer will not return.
Regardless of what will happen with the group’s elder statesman, one thing seems certain: New England will not make any major investments in its quarterback position this free agency period.