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Training Camp Positional Snapshot: Quarterbacks

In the lead-up to Training Camp, we're inspecting the Patriots roster position by position. Today, an examination of the quarterbacks. 

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10).
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10).

Bubble: None

In the Mix: Trace McSorley


The Patriots spent the spring offseason program preparing with third-year quarterback Mac Jones as the clear-cut starter in OTA and minicamp practices. For those wanting a competition between Jones and second-year backup Bailey Zappe, that wasn't the case.

Although things could still change based on Jones's performance, it's the former first-round pick's job to lose as the Pats try to get their QB1 back to where he was when he was the runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021. The questions for Mac's future as the Patriots starting quarterback are twofold: 1. Is the damage done from a rocky second season beyond repair, and 2. Can Mac find another level above his rookie campaign, which is necessary to be viewed as a long-term answer?

To answer those questions, Jones under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, is on the right track to restoring his confidence. However, with a fifth-year option decision looming and a team that wants to take a significant step forward as a playoff contender, a purely reset year for the quarterback isn't enough. The Pats need more from Mac than simply working his way back to his first-year form, which is where he's heading now from what we saw in the spring.

At his best, Jones's carrying traits are his ability to quickly process defenses and run the offense as a field general pre and post-snap. The Pats quarterback's former offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, Steve Sarkisian, described Jones as having "fast eyes" to make quick, smart decisions that allow the offensive system to function efficiently. Jones might've lacked the overwhelming physical tools, but he made up for it with his mind and in-rhythm ball placement.

The Patriots saw those skills translate in Jones's rookie season with Josh McDaniels coordinating the offense. However, and granted, this is often true for many first-year quarterbacks, there was a ceiling to the style of quarterback play Jones gave them in 2021. New England can compete with Jones playing at that level, but they won't win games because of the quarterback, which is the ultimate question for this organization.

If the Patriots need to win games with Jones as a game manager rather than a difference-maker, his supporting cast will need to continue to improve and do the heavy lifting.

To this point, head coach Bill Belichick has been reluctant to go all-in on pricey receivers to add the high-end talent necessary to make a limited quarterback shine. But we have not seen Mac consistently show he can carry the load offensively. Whether it's reaching an elite level mentally or maxing out physically, something has to give, where either Jones takes that next step into elite quarterback status, Belichick changes his team-building philosophy, or the team moves on.

As for the other quarterbacks on the roster, there are things to like about backup Bailey Zappe's poise, similarly sharp processing, and ability to throw with anticipation. But Zappe has many of the same pros and cons as Jones, which also means he doesn't have the physical tools to overtake Jones, with few areas where you'd say he has a leg-up.

Still, if things go awry with Mac, Zappe's steady presence is enough to give the Patriots coaching staff another option with a similar skill set, presenting some in-house competition.

New England is also rostering veteran Trace McSorley as a Brian Hoyer replacement. McSorley isn't viewed as a likely roster candidate. But he will provide depth on the practice squad and as a scout-team quarterback with some mobility.

Lastly, the Pats signed former Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2023 NFL Draft. Cunningham primarily worked with wide receivers during the spring but took some "opportunity" QB reps late in practice and worked read-option concepts at quarterback to give the defense those looks. As Cunningham works on a position switch, he could be the scout team's best option to mimic dynamic mobile QBs.

The Patriots don't have a quarterback competition brewing yet heading into training camp, but big-picture questions remain at the position.

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