Bill Belichick Facing Problems But Patriots Quarterback Controversy Isn't One ... Yet

Ask Bill Belichick about his problems this week, with the Cleveland Browns on the schedule Sunday, and he doesn't mention his starting quarterback being injured or his past draft mistakes glowing in neon before his face.

"These guys use three tight ends more than anyone in the league," Belichick says about the Browns. "They use jumbo linemen more than anybody in the league. They use tight ends a lot. They go multiple formations, multiple shifts, lot of stuff before the snap, and then when the ball is snapped you better be ready to go because they're coming after you. And they got a great back. So there's no rest for the weary there."

The More Important Issues

That's a mouthful. But it's things Belichick isn't highlighting that are way more important:

He didn't say anything about how he scouted the University of Georgia offensive backfield before the 2018 draft and decided Sony Michel should be his first-round draft pick instead of Nick Chubb, the back he just referred to as "a great back."


And he's not letting himself entertain the question about who he starts at quarterback. That has led multiple pundits to question whether the Patriots have a quarterback controversy.

To be clear, I don't believe the Patriots have a controversy at this stage. If he's healthy, Mac Jones is this team's starting quarterback.

But Jones isn't fully healthy. He's nursing a high ankle sprain and has been wearing a knee brace, so Belichick is likely to start Bailey Zappe at quarterback against the Browns just like he did last week against the Lions.

So no real controversy right now.

It's Mac Jones Unless It Isn't

But to believe that's where the conversation ends and everything else is just idle words is naïve because Belichick's mind doesn't operate in such a linear fashion when multiple variables must be considered.

So here are the variables:

Suppose Zappe is the starter, as most everyone expects, because Jones is not 100 percent. And suppose Zappe improves dramatically on last week when he managed the game well enough to help the Patriots beat Detroit, 29-0 ...

Then what? Do the Patriots have a QB controversy?

Well, we just might need a more serious conversation because multiple things are at play that could lead to a change.

Belichick is committed to Jones as his starter but not married to him. If someone better comes along, Jones could easily go the way of Drew Bledsoe, who was the NFL's highest-paid quarterback when he got injured in 2001 and never got his job back because his replacement was better.

No one here is saying Zappe is the next coming of Tom Brady. Nowhere close today.

But Zappe is in the same situation. So if he performs to the same heights, most notably by delivering victories, he's not going to get pulled. Simple as that.

And why might that be easier for Belichick now than it was in 2001?

Because Jones hasn't been great. He had a good rookie season but this year he's the NFL's 29th-rated passer. He's thrown 2 touchdown passes against 5 interceptions.

Jones has as many touchdown passes as Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, who's only played two games. Jones has the same number as Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who's been benched. He has as many touchdowns as Zappe, who only played as a substitute two weeks ago before starting against Detroit.

The much-anticipated second-year leap has not manifested for Jones so far this season.

So he's not immune from competition. He's not immune from losing his job while injured.

Belichick Doesn't Have To Make His Decision Yet

Perhaps that's one reason Belichick, asked directly if Jones gets his job back when he's healthy, has not given a direct answer.

"We'll see where he is today, I don't know," Belichick said earlier this week.

That's not just Belichick being Belichick -- difficult and unforthcoming with reporters. That's Belichick not giving a definitive answer to a fluid situation.

So Zappe likely gets another chance against the Browns and perhaps even the Chicago Bears the following week, if Jones still isn't healthy.

"I'm preparing to do what my coaches tell me I'm supposed to be doing," Zappe said, "and right now that's take practice reps and do everything I can to help the team."

If Zappe plays like a rookie fourth-round pick that is inconsistent and needs to grow then it'll likely be Jones again. But if Zappe's great and wins, it will be difficult to take his job away.

Is that a quarterback controversy?

It's a competition.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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Armando Salguero is a national award-winning columnist and is OutKick's Senior NFL Writer. He has covered the NFL since 1990 and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a voter for the Associated Press All-Pro Team and Awards. Salguero, selected a top 10 columnist by the APSE, has worked for the Miami Herald, Miami News, Palm Beach Post and ESPN as a national reporter. He has also hosted morning drive radio shows in South Florida.