Life after Tom Brady has been difficult for the Patriots franchise and fanbase. While the majority of Patriots fans were happy to see Brady win another Super Bowl and further cement himself as the greatest quarterback in history, the Patriots are left in quarterback limbo. Until that position is solved, New England won’t get back to competing for championships.
With that said, New England can’t get desperate searching for their next franchise signal-caller. It’s important to differentiate between finding a starting quarterback and finding the right starting quarterback. Missing on the position could set the franchise back even further.
I won’t get too deep in the weeds analyzing the season put together by Cam Newton, but I don’t believe it was quite as bad as others seem to think. The lack of preseason with a new team, the poor weaponry and dealing with a case of COVID-19 all played a part in Newton’s difficult transition. His leadership and play on the field was admirable, even if it was limited at times.
Patriots Free Agents
I’ve pointed this out a few times now, but Cam Newton’s 2020 season was more comparable to Tom Brady’s 2019 season than many think. Newton’s on-target throw % was higher, while barely sacrificing the average distance that each throw traveled. His yards per attempt was better despite dealing with pressure on 8% more dropbacks.
There seems to be a scenario where Cam Newton is brought back to the Patriots to compete for a starting position, and the fanbase should be content with that decision as long as a prospect is drafted to develop as well. New England may get playoff-quality play from Cam Newton if they improve their offensive weapons, which they have the cap space and draft position necessary to do so.
Newton figures to have a modest market, which means he should be available for a cheaper contract that doesn’t break the bank. That type of deal could once again be beneficial for New England and allow them to use their cap space on upgrading other positions on the roster.
Brian Hoyer was given a chance to start on the road against Kansas City this season, and the results were uninspiring. While his experience in the offensive system allows him to be a mentor for younger quarterbacks, Hoyer’s time may have run out in New England. Assuming the Patriots sign a veteran free agent and select a quarterback in the NFL Draft, that will make three options at the position with Jarrett Stidham unlikely to be moved. That doesn’t leave any space for Hoyer.
Free Agent QB Fits
Jacoby Brissett (28 years old – 2,942 passing yards, 60.9% completion, 18 TD’s, 6 INT’s in 2019, backup in 2020)
Jacoby Brissett was drafted by New England and started two games as a rookie, before the Patriots took advantage of his value and traded him for former first-round pick Phillip Dorsett. Brissett turned in two separate seasons in Indianapolis as the starter, performing with mixed results and getting replaced at the top of the depth chart for the following year both times. Now a free agent without a home in Indy after they traded for Carson Wentz, Brissett is likely to test the free agent market.
A reunion in New England makes sense, as he has experience with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and has 32 starts in his career. Brissett’s inconsistent accuracy and internal clock will need to improve if he’s ever going to be a long-term solution for an NFL team, but he has tools to work with. It’s possible that a team gives him the chance to be a starter next season, and that team could be the Patriots on a two-year contract. Brissett isn’t talented enough to warrant New England ignoring the quarterback position in the NFL Draft, so he would be likely to face stiff competition on the depth chart.
Mitch Trubisky (27 years old – 2,055 passing yards, 67.0% completion, 16 TD’s, 8 INT’s in 2020, 10 games)
Mitch Trubisky remains a mystery. He’s a capable athlete with a big arm, and has had flashes of brilliance in late game situations. Still, his inconsistent play is highlighted by wavering accuracy, the occasional questionable decision, an inability to develop a vertical passing game and a general lack of field awareness.
If you look at Trubisky’s career trajectory, it’s not unlike that of Ryan Tannehill. That could lead an NFL decision-maker to believe a change of scenery could help the former #2 overall pick turn a corner. I’m not quite as sold on that, but his talent suggests that he’s one of the best 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL. That starting caliber floor, his age, and potential price-tag could put him in the Patriots range during free agency.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (38 years old – 2,090 passing yards, 68.5% completion, 13 TD’s, 8 INT’s in 2020, 7 games)
The journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing well as the starter in Miami last season before being replaced by rookie Tua Tagovailoa, though Fitzpatrick made some relief appearances down the stretch of games. Fitzpatrick seemed bothered that he was supplanted as the starter while playing good football, suggesting that he’ll look for an opportunity to start this offseason. New England could be one of those places, though Fitz could find himself in a similar situation if the Patriots were to select a quarterback in the NFL Draft.
Andy Dalton (33 years old – 2,170 passing yards, 64.9% completion, 14 TD’s, 8 INT’s in 2020, 9 games)
The long-time starter in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton figured to take on a backup role for the first time in Dallas last season. Unfortunately, Dak Prescott was injured in the 5th game of the season and Dalton mostly took over from there. Dalton was his typical self, giving his team a chance to win with his steady play. By now we know that Dalton is a quarterback that won’t ever be detrimental to his team, but fails to move the needle and isn’t capable of getting his team over the top. He may be the best option if New England is looking for a bridge quarterback who will keep them competitive and in the playoff race while a younger option develops.
Other Potential Veterans: Tyrod Taylor, Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, Mike Glennon
Jameis Winston (27 years old – 5,109 passing yards, 60.7% completion, 33 TD’s, 30 INT’s in 2019, backup in 2020)
Jameis Winston doesn’t lack talent throwing the football, but his reckless play style doesn’t really fit with what Bill Belichick looks for in his quarterbacks. Winston could be an intriguing reclamation project, but New England will probably prefer to let a different team take on that burden.
Dak Prescott (28 years old – 1,856 passing yards, 68.0% completion, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s in 2020, 5 games)
Dak Prescott is technically a free agent this offseason, but Dallas would be foolish to allow him to test the open market. Both sides seem determined to work out a long-term deal and the Cowboys are likely to use the franchise tag if they cannot come to an agreement. By the slim chance that Dak becomes available, New England should do everything they possibly can to secure his services.
Potential Cap Casualties
Jimmy Garoppolo (29 years old – 1,096 passing yards, 67.1% completion, 7 TD’s, 5 INT’s in 2020, 6 games)
San Francisco has reportedly been in talks to acquire an upgrade at the quarterback position, which means that Jimmy Garoppolo could become available as a free agent or via trade. With the way that his contract is set up, he could be moved with just a small dead cap hit. The 49ers would seemingly be content with Jimmy G as their starter if they’re unable to work out a trade for Deshaun Watson or a move up the NFL Draft board, so it’s unclear if there will actually be a market.
If Garoppolo does in fact become a free agent, expect New England to be all over him. Bill Belichick drafted and developed Garoppolo assuming that he would be the successor to Tom Brady, and he would be excited for that scenario to become a reality.
Teddy Bridgewater (28 years old – 3,733 passing yards, 69.1% completion, 15 TD’s, 11 INT’s in 2020)
Similar to the 49ers, the Carolina Panthers are seemingly searching for an upgrade over their starting quarterback but would be content with entering next year with Teddy Bridgewater if they’re unable to find the right deal. Bridgewater has showed promise over the past two years, but will turn 29 years-old during the season and has never thrown for more than 15 touchdowns in a season. He’s a starting caliber quarterback, but New England could find themselves in the same situation that Carolina is currently facing if Bridgewater were to be signed.
Marcus Mariota (27 years old – 1,203 passing yards, 59.4% completion, 7 TD’s, 2 INT’s in 2019, backup in 2020)
Marcus Mariota seemed well on his way to being a really solid starting quarterback in the NFL, until his play began to slip near the end of the 2016 season. Mariota was eventually supplanted as the starter in Tennessee by the resurgent Ryan Tannehill, landing in Las Vegas as the backup last season. He started one game, mostly playing well in a loss to the Chargers.
The Raiders are desperate to clear cap space and will be unlikely to pay Mariota to once again be their backup. Mariota’s talents and athleticism are still obvious, and he seems like the type of high upside reclamation project that Bill Belichick would welcome taking on.
Alex Smith (37 years old – 1,582 passing yards, 66.7% completion, 6 TD’s, 8 INT’s in 2020, 8 games)
Alex Smith’s comeback from a gruesome leg injury was remarkable, and it was even more amazing to see him start multiple games for Washington last season. The quarterback situation for The Football Team is even worse shape than it is for the Patriots, which makes them likely to address it this offseason. That could lead to Smith being available as a free agent as his dead cap hit plummets by more than $20 million. It’s unclear if New England would take a chance on Smith due to his age, injury history and middling play in 2020.