It is another episode of the drama, which has lingered for nearly a year now, we might call, “As the Patriots’ Quarterback Room Turns.”
We know where we are at this point, with Mac Jones the Patriots starter, Panthers castoff Matt Corral his newly acquired backup and his former backup—and one-time starting-spot challenger—Bailey Zappe biding his time on the practice squad. Malik Cunningham, the only Patriots quarterback to show much of anything during the preseason, is kicking around, too, also on the practice squad.
According to Sports Illustrated insider Albert Breer, though, the Patriots were very close to taking a different tack with the position: bringing in a quality veteran backup behind Jones to bring him along in his professionalism, and perhaps challenge Zappe to win back the backup role in the bargain.
While word that the Patriots had contact with Colt McCoy’s camp after he was surprisingly released by the Cardinals, Breer writes that another veteran—35-year-old Case Keenum, who is back with the Texans (the team that drafted him in 2013)—also had the Patriots’ interest.
Corral’s Release Changed Patriots Plans
Things have settled at the position, but only for now. The fact that Corral, a third-round pick in 2022, became available threw the Patriots’ plans to patiently search for a veteran into havoc.
“My sense is that, initially, the Patriots wanted to look at using the roster spot on a veteran with a lot of experience who could be a resource to Jones,” Breer wrote. “They explored names like Case Keenum (who’d have to have been acquired via trade) and Colt McCoy (who is recovering from an elbow injury). Then Corral landed on waivers … and pushed a decision on it forward.”
Breer, though, sees the acquisition of Corral as having a different goal than the pursuit of McCoy or Keenum—that goal being to push Jones by keeping the threat of replacement alive.
“It does make you wonder if (coach Bill Belichick) is trying to keep the heat on Jones, just a little bit, with another quarterback who is, like Zappe, younger than him with untapped upside,” Breer wrote. “If Jones plays well, of course, this amounts to nothing. If he doesn’t, well, Corral’s got enough talent to where some teams thought two years ago, absent the character questions, he was a borderline first-round player.”
Corral Not Ready to Step in Behind Jones
In the meantime, the Patriots seem to have lost sight of a fairly important fact—a backup quarterback is not there merely to change the psychological approach of the other quarterbacks on the roster and practice squad. The backup is there in case your starter gets injured and you need a capable player to replace him.
Injuries do happen, after all. It was Jones’ ankle injury last year that got Zappe onto the field in the first place.
Keenum, with 10 years in the NFL playing for seven franchises, is an ideal guy to put on the field should an injury arise. Corral is not. He has never appeared in an NFL game and, according to Panthers reporter Joe Person, Carolina did not think he was close to being ready for that.
“The Panthers think he is at least a year away from being someone who can help them if he was pressed into service with an injury or whatever,” Person told NBC Sports’ Tom Curran last week.
Yes, the situation is settled. For now. But probably not for good.