Stunner of the summer: Why the Patriots released Bailey Zappe originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FOXBORO -- There were members of the Patriots organization who were truly stunned that Bailey Zappe was released as the team pared its roster down to 53 players on Tuesday.
They knew he had a tough summer on the field. They still didn't expect him to be gone by the end of it. For some, it felt like a late-developing decision.
"Shocker," said one staffer.
It was a perplexing end to a training camp that began with Zappe openly admitting he was competing for the starting quarterback job after his impressive rookie season. Drafted in the fourth round out of Western Kentucky last spring, he helped the Patriots win regular-season games against the Browns and Lions when he had an opportunity to play following injuries to Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer.
But in Bill O'Brien's offense, and in front of a patchwork group of backup offensive linemen, Zappe's confidence seemed to wane in Year 2. He held onto the football for extended periods of time both in practice and preseason games. The poise he showed in the pocket at times as a rookie seemed to abandon him. His accuracy was spotty.
The numbers in preseason play were eyebrow-raising. Zappe completed 58.8 percent of his passes. He averaged 5.0 yards per attempt. He was sacked six times, and he had a quarterback rating of 78.3. Zappe also fumbled three times in the preseason finale against the Titans last week. For a team that lives by the phrase "ball security is job security," perhaps Tuesday's outcome should not have been so surprising.
But it was for folks at One Patriot Place. Beyond the fact he was the team's lone experienced backup, he was also well-liked in the locker room, which made his departure a little tougher to swallow for some.
"I have mixed emotions about it," Matthew Slater said. "I love Bailey. He knows how I feel about him. He’s one of my favorite kids all-time."
The Patriots appear to be handling the quarterback situation as if they'll be able to either acquire an upgrade or re-sign Zappe after he clears waivers.
But if Zappe is claimed by another club -- or if he wants a fresh start outside the organization that just acknowledged it was OK with losing him -- Bill Belichick doesn't have a bevy of obvious options to play as his No. 2.
Perhaps the Patriots could re-sign rookie Malik Cunningham (if he clears waivers) to the practice squad. But Cunningham hasn't seen much practice time at quarterback and asking him to potentially play in an emergency situation would seem like a stretch.
UPDATE (1 p.m. ET): Zappe and Cunningham both cleared waivers and are signing with the Patriots' practice squad. Click here for an updated list of Patriots practice squad signings.
The Patriots' third-stringer from this summer, Trace McSorley, could be brought back as someone with at least some training camp experience in O'Brien's offense. But he wasn't an effective enough passer to warrant a longer stay in Foxboro, and he was clearly behind Zappe in the pecking order all summer. Would he really be a suitable Zappe replacement if Zappe has been deemed expendable?
Colt McCoy is a possibility, having just been released by the Cardinals, though he's dealing with an elbow injury. Texans backup Case Keenum is another veteran trade possibility who'd seem like the right kind of fit in New England. Unlike Zappe, Keenum is clearly at a much different stage of his career than Jones, and a mentor/sounding board for Jones could be of some value to O'Brien and Bill Belichick.
Keenum has played for O'Brien before, but they've apparently had a bit of a contentious history, and it's unclear if the Texans would even be willing to deal Keenum if they like the influence he's had on rookie starter C.J. Stroud. Houston's other backup is third-year passer Davis Mills, who might also be of interest in New England if Texans general manager Nick Caserio was open for business on that front.
Carson Wentz is available. Same goes for Nick Foles and Chase Daniel. They all have experience in multiple systems. Jake Fromm could be an interesting addition for Belichick given his Georgia background and his history playing under former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll in Buffalo (2020-21).
In any event, it's not where the Patriots want to be. Belichick has spoken hundreds of words on the importance of depth as he's fielded roster-building questions over the last few days, and now he has just one player on his active roster at the most important position in the sport. It's also worth noting that his team has a banged-up offensive line that will face one of the most talented pass-rushing units in football in Week 1.
The temptation may be to say that the entirety of this discussion will be moot if Zappe lands back in the Patriots locker room as a practice squad member. He could get through waivers, re-sign, and develop within O'Brien's offense as he gets accustomed to its intricacies, which differ greatly from what he was exposed to as a collegian and an NFL rookie.
But even if it does go down that way, Belichick made a statement Tuesday. He had plenty of other players to choose from when cutting down his roster. The reality is he saw plenty of Zappe this summer, and he didn't love what he saw. By releasing him, he understood there was a possibility of never seeing his second-year quarterback in a Patriots uniform again.
Which makes one wonder: If Zappe's summer was that rough, why wait so long to address the issue?
Maybe that was part of the explanation for sending Zappe back into the game in Tennessee and playing him well into the fourth quarter on a night when regulars sat. Maybe Belichick was hoping Zappe would play his way out of his rut with more reps.
Now Belichick is left with two less-than-ideal options: 1) Import a new arm and hope he qualifies as an upgrade, or 2) be left with the original backup who left you wanting in the first place.