Coming off the most disappointing season in decades and with neither Mac Jones nor Bailey Zappe locked into a roster spot, the New England Patriots’ quarterback position will be in the spotlight all spring. How the team will try to upgrade it remains to be seen, but we now know whose task it will be to get the players ready: T.C. McCartney has been hired as New England’s new QB coach.
A former member of the Cleveland Browns, who spent the last four years working alongside new Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, McCartney always felt like a natural addition to this new-look New England staff. He has indeed joined the group now, so let’s find out what the hire means from a big-picture perspective.
The Patriots will have a fifth quarterbacks coach in five years
Bill O’Brien served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in a dual role last year, meaning that his departure created a vacancy at both spots. And while we have known a week now that Alex Van Pelt would replace one part of his job, we now also know that T.C. McCartney will take over the other half.
For the Patriots, this means yet another QB coach in the building — the fifth in the last five years. Jedd Fisch worked with the position in 2020, followed by Josh McDaniels at the tail-end of that season and in 2021, Joe Judge in 2022, and Bill O’Brien, assisted by Evan Rothstein, last year. There was a chance Rothstein might take over after O’Brien’s departure to provide some level of consistency, but an outside hire with ties to Van Pelt always appeared to be the most likely outcome.
That has indeed happened now. The 34-year-old McCartney, himself a former quarterback at LSU, will now attempt to bring stability to a position that has lacked just that recently.
Evan Rothstein might be headed out the door
The aforementioned Evan Rothstein remains in limbo, but McCartney coming aboard as QB coach does not appear to be good news for his outlook. While there is a chance he is back in his previous role as assistant quarterbacks coach, or another capacity, it would not be a surprise either if he left for a position elsewhere — possibly reuniting with O’Brien wherever the Patriots’ ex-OC ends up.
A different tight ends coach needs to be brought in
McCartney spent the last two seasons coaching tight ends for the Browns, and him joining the Patriots in that very same role was considered an option. With him now returning to his roots and working with the passers, however, New England will need somebody else to coach tight ends in 2024.
Will Lawing staying put after he worked with the group last year is possible, but he appears to be in the same basic boat as Evan Rothstein: his lack of experience working with Alex Van Pelt is not helping his case, and he too might join his long-time boss Bill O’Brien at his next stop.
This leaves other candidates to fill the spot.
One name to consider is Jonathan Decoster, a Browns offensive assistant who coached tight ends at Louisiana State and Old Dominion before moving to the NFL. Nick Caley, who previously coached tight ends in New England before leaving for the Los Angeles Rams last spring, could also return (although that appears to be a less likely outcome after he had yet another unsuccessful offensive coordinator interview with the team).
Joe Flacco will be a name to watch in free agency
The Patriots are expected to address their quarterback position this offseason, and it would not be a surprise if they double-dipped in an effort to improve the struggling group: invest both in the draft, and in free agency six weeks earlier.
If New England indeed opts to go that route, one player to keep an eye on is Joe Flacco. Despite being 39 years old, the long-time Baltimore Ravens QB would make sense for the Patriots given his familiarity with both offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and new quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney.
Flacco and McCartney’s history goes beyond their time in Cleveland last season. The two also worked closely with one another in 2019, when McCartney coached quarterbacks for the Denver Broncos. Back then, Flacco was one of three starting quarterbacks used by the team; in his eight games, he completed 171 of 262 pass attempts (65.3%) for 1,822 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
In an ideal world, the Patriots would not have to rely on Flacco or another potential veteran acquisition such as Jacoby Brissett to start in 2024. However, his experience working with Van Pelt and McCartney could prove itself valuable —all at a relatively minor cost.
The list of ex-Browns in New England keeps growing
The Patriots have not shied away from bringing associates of new OC Alex Van Pelt aboard. McCartney is the third ex-Browns assistant coach hired alongside his coordinator and offensive line coach Scott Peters; he is the fourth addition overall with ties to Cleveland including personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith.
It would not be a surprise if others still followed. Stump Mitchell and Tyler Tettleton appear to be candidates for running backs coach, with Chad O’Shea a name to keep on the radar when it comes to the wide receiver position.