Patriots Roster Cuts: Mac Jones Takes the Helm
Shaping the Quarterback Hierarchy
Throughout the summer, Bill Belichick remained cryptic when questioned about the Patriots’ quarterback competition. However, a decisive response emerged on Tuesday: No competition exists.
The Patriots have solidified their quarterback hierarchy, leaving no doubt that Mac Jones stands at the helm, unchallenged.
Changing Landscape: Roster Moves and Significance
In fact, as of Tuesday evening, Mac Jones remains the sole quarterback on the Patriots’ roster. This follows the team’s decision to waive veteran Trace McSorley on Monday and, surprisingly, second-year quarterback Bailey Zappe on Tuesday, a move that reverberated across the NFL. Additionally, rookie all-rounder Malik Cunningham was waived, although insider sources suggest the Patriots might re-sign him to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
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While the Patriots will inevitably acquire another quarterback in the coming week, Belichick cautioned on Tuesday that some released players might return.
Resolute Statement: Mac Jones Takes Charge
Nonetheless, releasing a player like Zappe, despite future possibilities, underscores their commitment. This move further highlights the Patriots’ complete alignment with Jones as he embarks on his third season, aiming to eliminate potential controversies.
Zappe’s Journey: Performance and Departure
Zappe, a fourth-round draft pick last year, seemed to face challenges understanding Bill O’Brien’s offense. Signs were ominous in Nashville last Friday when Zappe was substituted out in the first half of a preseason finale, only to be reinserted later. His performance that night—completing just 8 of 15 passes for 57 yards, facing four sacks and three fumbles, and receiving an earful from O’Brien after a particularly rough series—appeared to mark a downturn.
Still, Zappe’s release raised eyebrows. He demonstrated promise during his four-game stint last year, winning both his starts, impressively dueling Aaron Rodgers in relief, and maintaining a pass completion rate exceeding 70 percent. Moreover, Zappe was cost-effective set to earn the league minimum this season ($870,000).
Beyond Performance: Factors Behind zappe’s Departure
However, Zappe’s departure could encompass more than just performance issues.
Zappe’s presence in New England challenged Jones, who aspires to cement his role as the franchise quarterback (and who enjoys favor from the team owners).
Learning from the Past: Lessons in Quarterback Dynamics
Last year, the Patriots learned the hard way that having two quarterbacks can be problematic. Jones faced boos and chants for Zappe during a loss to the Bears, leading to a touchdown pass from Zappe upon his entry. Zappe’s performance last year divided not only fans but also the locker room, as noted by Devin McCourty.
While Jones and Zappe emphasized mutual improvement, having two unproven quarterbacks in daily competition was undoubtedly awkward. Teams often pair a seasoned veteran with a younger starter to establish a clear hierarchy—a dynamic the Patriots lacked with Jones and Zappe.
Newfound Clarity: Jones Assumes Leadership
Now, that issue is resolved. Jones holds the reins, unchallenged. Even if Zappe returns after clearing waivers, it’s evident that the Patriots view him as distinctly separate from Jones in terms of caliber.
Whoever the Patriots choose as Jones’s backup—potential candidates include Carson Wentz, Trevor Siemian, Will Grier, John Wolford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, and Jeff Driskel—will not pose a genuine threat to Jones’s position. The newcomer will face an uphill battle, having missed the offseason.
Balancing Priorities: Jones’s Role and Zappe’s Departure
If Jones truly embodies the Patriots’ franchise quarterback—despite a need to improve his 2022 performance—letting go of Zappe was a wise decision. Jones requires the space to establish himself as the team’s leader.
Past and Future: Evaluating Quarterback Moves
However, the Patriots have a track record of prematurely parting with young quarterbacks. Trading Jacoby Brissett after a single year saw him become a prominent backup/spot starter. Similarly, letting go of Jarrett Stidham after three seasons resulted in his successful debut with the Raiders and acclaim from Broncos coach Sean Payton.
Zappe holds value; he’s more accomplished and cost-effective than Trey Lance, who was recently traded for a fourth-round pick. If Zappe doesn’t return to the practice squad, the Patriots essentially released him for naught.
Balancing Act: Evaluating Zappe’s Legacy
If last year’s performance by Zappe was truly a mirage, and if he truly did clash with O’Brien and struggle to pick up the offense, then moving on makes sense. It’s also smart business for the Patriots to have a definitive quarterback hierarchy.
However, the Patriots must hope they haven’t relinquished yet another talented young quarterback without due consideration.”