New England finished their 2020 campaign on Sunday by beating the lowly New York Jets, upping their record to 7-9 for the season. While it was a far cry from the past dominant teams led by quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots were competitive throughout most of the season.
Starting quarterback Cam Newton had an up and down season, at times getting replaced by Jarrett Stidham and at others leading a strong rushing attack. Newton was in New England on a one-year contract, and his return moving forward is entirely possible. However, his play this season didn’t necessarily guarantee that he will return in a starting capacity, and it’s expected that New England will be searching for a starter-level player at the position this offseason.
Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham could be an option to be the starter next season, but it seems unlikely after he was given minimal playing time this season even as Cam Newton struggled and the Patriots were out of playoff contention.
Here are the potential candidates and the path that New England could acquire them.
Free Agents Options
New England enters this offseason with the fourth-most projected cap space in the league, meaning they could be in position for any high-value player on the open market. With that said, I find it unlikely that Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick leave their current teams. I’m going to put Mitchell Trubisky in that category as well, as reports are that Chicago would prefer to bring him back.
Newton will be a candidate to return to the roster, as it’s unlikely that any team could do better for the price that he’ll sign for. Cam’s completion percentage was quietly strong, which means that with better weapons the passing production would increase. With his rushing stats still among the best for quarterbacks, the offense could at least be serviceable with him behind center assuming that New England addresses wide receiver in the offseason.
The former Patriot who was traded for Phillip Dorsett, Jacoby Brissett has now backed up both Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. He’s shown starter-level traits when given the chance to start over the years, both in New England and Indianapolis. In his career, he’s thrown 31 touchdown passes to just 13 interceptions, and he has familiarity with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels (assuming he remains as offensive coordinator).
The former #1 overall pick, Jameis Winston is clearly talented but was wildly inconsistent and careless with the football while the starter in Tampa Bay. After spending a season backing up Drew Brees and being coached by Sean Payton, he could be ready to take over as a starter elsewhere on a team-friendly contract. This would be a high upside signing, but also one that could blow up in the Patriots face.
Other Veteran Options: Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor
On the right deal, Andy Dalton or Tyrod Taylor could act as a “bridge” quarterback while a younger quarterback develops behind them.
Trading for a quarterback can be tricky, as teams have to be willing to part with them because of other available talent and while minimizing dead cap money.
Another former Patriot, Jimmy Garoppolo had an inconsistent season after bringing San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2019. His dead cap money plummets this offseason, and the 49ers have essentially made it known that they’ll move on from Jimmy G if they acquire a better option. He fits the Patriots offensive system that they ran for years with Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick valued his skill-set. Garoppolo’s career numbers suggest that he could bring New England back to the playoffs (if he remains healthy). He is 24-8 as a starter, has thrown 2 touchdowns for every 1 interception and has completed 67.5% of his passes.
With the New York Jets picking second overall, they’ll have the option to take a high upside quarterback prospect in the draft. What that means for former third-overall pick Sam Darnold is unclear, but the still talented player has flashed at times in a bad situation. At just 23 years-old, there is still potential within Darnold that could be salvaged with the right coaching and in the right system.
With Detroit drafting at #7 overall in the NFL Draft, it’s possible that the new Lions regime will look to bring in their own quarterback and replace Matthew Stafford. Detroit is in total rebuild mode, meaning they could secure value for Stafford and add young pieces or extra draft picks. Bringing Stafford in via trade would likely cost the Patriots first-round pick because it would still hit the Lions with $19 million in dead cap space. Stafford would solidify the position for New England for the coming years as he’s only about to turn 33 years-old, but it’s unclear how well the Patriots could build their roster missing the assets they would have to sacrifice in order to trade for him.
Other Trade Options: Carson Wentz, Gardner Minshew
Carson Wentz’s contract makes him a difficult player for the Eagles to trade and he probably wouldn’t be worth the cause for the Patriots. Gardner Minshew is the perfect backup for the quarterback Jacksonville will draft at #1 overall.
NFL Draft Options
With New England selecting at #15 overall, it’s unlikely that they’ll be in position to draft any of the top quarterbacks in the class. Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance will probably not be realistic options, though the fanbase should be ecstatic if they’re able to get in position to select one of them.
The quarterback for Nick Saban’s Alabama team, Mac Jones is capable of running an offense with surgical precision. His deep ball has been one of the best among all college passers, throwing for 36 touchdowns and 4 interceptions this season on 77.0% completion. Jones figures to be the first option for teams outside of the first wave of quarterback prospects.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is a quarterback who thrives on short and intermediate passes, but struggles driving the deep ball or when velocity is required. Trask has the skill-set that would’ve fit better in the NFL around 20 years ago, but still holds some value today. His decision-making, accuracy and touch gives him starter-potential in the NFL.
The anti-Trask, Desmond Ridder is an athletic quarterback prospect with loads of arm talent. While he has started for three seasons, he hasn’t had the standout production normally seen among college prospects. Still, Ridder has a lot working for him. He’s mobile at 6’4, already has a lot of experience and has led Cincinnati to a 20-3 record over the past two seasons. Ridder figures to be the main target of NFL teams searching for a quarterback to draft in the 2nd round.
Other Draft Options: Jamie Newman, Kellen Mond
Both Senior Bowl bound passers have NFL size and arm talent, and figure to be options for NFL teams in the mid-rounds of the draft.