The Patriots have made a decision on their backup quarterback for Sunday's regular-season opener against the Eagles at Gillette Stadium.
After placing quarterback Matt Corral on the exempt/left squad list, creating a roster spot, the Patriots signed second-year quarterback Bailey Zappe to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Saturday. Another team cannot sign Corral as the Patriots didn't release him, but he also doesn't count against the 53-man roster limit while on the list.
|Patriots Roster Moves||Player(s)|
|Signed to 53-man roster||QB Bailey Zappe, RB Ty Montgomery|
|Practice Squad Elevation||LB Calvin Munson|
|Placed on Injured Reserve||CB Jack Jones (hamstring)|
|Placed on Exempt/Left Squad List||QB Matt Corral|
New England has also placed cornerback Jack Jones (hamstring) on in-season injured reserve, opening a spot on the 53-man roster for WR/RB Ty Montgomery, who figures to provide depth behind lead backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott. Finally, linebacker Calvin Munson has been elevated from the practice squad as well.
Following an up-and-down second training camp, Zappe was a surprise cut during the 53-man roster cutdown day last week. However, his multiple months head start on Corral in Bill O'Brien's offense gave Zappe a clear advantage in the backup QB competition behind starter Mac Jones.
In his Friday morning press conference, head coach Bill Belichick hinted that Zappe's time in the offensive system dating back to the spring gave him a leg up on Corral.
"That's a decision we're going to have to finalize here today. I think it's a consideration," Belichick said before Friday's practice. "Bailey [Zappe] certainly has the advantage on experience and time in the system and all that, so we'll see how that all plays out. We have a couple of different options there, so we'll kind of see how that goes, try to make the best one."
Although he's now in line to dress as Jones's backup on Sunday, Zappe was initially waived by the team after a shaky summer, where he struggled to transition into a new system. The second-year quarterback showed promise in two starts as a rookie working in a simplified offense where he was well protected off play-action concepts from under center with extra blockers.
O'Brien's offense put significant mental stress on the quarterback before and after the snap. In O'Brien's scheme, it's on the QB to set protections and check the offense into the proper play at the line of scrimmage, while there are also significant amounts of full-field progressions where the quarterback needs to sift through reads rather than throw in rhythm. Zappe sometimes struggled with making timely decisions with the football when asked to read the full field, resulting in a disappointing preseason finale where he was sacked four times and fumbled on three occasions, partially due to holding the ball.
Despite his struggles in the preseason, Zappe should still be a serviceable backup to starting quarterback Mac Jones. There are things he does well, like under-center play-action, that the offense can go to if he's in the game. Plus, the results will certainly look better for Zappe playing with New England's starting offense rather than backups.
It's also worth noting that the NFL clarified the emergency quarterback rule that the league brought back this season. Initially, a team could elevate a player from the practice squad to make him QB2 with a player on the 53-man roster serving as the emergency quarterback. However, the rule now states that QB2 and QB3 must be on the 53-man roster to take advantage of the emergency quarterback rule. Therefore, it ruled out the possibility that Zappe could be the backup from the practice squad with Corral as the emergency QB, so it would take two game-day roster spots to have both quarterbacks active.
Due to all the variables, it makes sense that Zappe is in line to back up Jones on Sunday.
CB JACK JONES PLACED ON INJURED RESERVE
Along with swapping Zappe for Corral on the 53-man roster, the Patriots also placed cornerback Jack Jones on in-season injured reserve. Jones (hamstring) will now miss at least the next four games.
Earlier this week, Jones resolved his legal issues from the offseason, clearing the way for him to play in Week 1. However, the second-year corner reportedly suffered a hamstring injury during practice that will now cause him to miss multiple games. On Wednesday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said that he anticipated Jones to be available but changed his tune later in the week, and Jones was already ruled out for Sunday on this week's injury report released Friday.
Although his ball-hawking skills produce turnovers, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Jones would be a big part of Sunday's game plan against the Eagles. Philly is a run-first offense that feasts on misdirection/motion and yards after contact. Jones is a good playmaking cornerback, but he's not the most assignment-sound or sure-tackling defender.
New England would've likely leaned heavily on their versatile safety group anyway, which offers a good combination of size and speed to combat the run game while still holding up in coverage. In obvious passing situations, one would expect slot corners Myles Bryant or Marcus Jones to replace a linebacker or safety to cover receivers.
The game plan this week probably won't change significantly without Jones. However, it could impact the Pats defense against more pass-heavy offenses, such as Miami next week, where playing three pure corners in a more traditional nickel package would make sense.
Ultimately, the Patriots have the secondary depth to withstand an injury to Jones, a talented, promising young player who hasn't proven consistent down-to-down in coverage yet.
RB TY MONTGOMERY SIGNED TO 53-MAN ROSTER
Moving on to Montgomery, lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson missed Friday's practice with an illness, but reports indicate he's expected to play. Instead, Montgomery's elevation is more about adding depth. The Patriots wouldn't play Sunday's game with only two running backs on the game-day roster. Initially, the Pats only kept Elliott and Stevenson on the 53-man roster as the two will likely dominate the workload in the backfield, while Montgomery and Kevin Harris are viewed as depth options. Typically, New England has at least three running backs active for games, so a move to add another was expected.
Although he has battled injuries in Foxborough, Montgomery has been an interesting option when healthy. He has worked at both wide receiver and out of the backfield in the passing game, allowing the Pats to play around with personnel and formations offensively. For example, Montgomery's versatility presents an option to use the same personnel to line up in an empty formation, or single-back looks in the shotgun, which makes it tough for defenses to know exactly how to match up against them.
That's not to say Montgomery is a big-time difference-maker (he would've made the initial roster if he was). Still, he's the closest thing this team has to a third-down back in the James White mold, and he does allow O'Brien to manipulate converge matchups with his formation flexibility; Montgomery makes sense as the third running back behind the more traditional early-down backs like Elliott and Stevenson.
LB CALVIN MUNSON ELEVATED FROM THE PRACTICE SQUAD
The last roster move for the Patriots heading into Sunday's clash with the Eagles is using a game-day elevation on linebacker Calvin Munson.
Munson was a standout performer in the team's preseason finale, where he registered 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception, and a pass breakup in 54 snaps. However, the veteran linebacker figures to have a large role in the kicking game rather than playing much on defense if he's active on Sunday. Munson has played 111 special teams snaps in seven games with New England over the last two seasons.
The Patriots roster for the regular-season opener against Philadelphia is set, and we are now on to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.