Ever since the New England Patriots drafted Drew Bledsoe with the first overall pick in 1993, the team’s quarterback position has been in safe hands. Bledsoe was one of the NFL’s most prolific passers of the 1990s while his successor, Tom Brady, grew from sixth-round selection in 2000 to the most decorated player the league has ever seen. With Brady on the wrong side of 40, however, the Patriots’ long-term outlook at the position is uncertain.
New England currently has two other passers on its roster in veteran Brian Hoyer and seventh-round rookie Danny Etling. Hoyer brings plenty of experience to the table, Etling is a developmental player to work with. However, neither of them should be counted on to take over once Brady decides to call it a career, leaving quarterback as arguably the most intriguing question the team will face over the next year-plus.
A recent list of the biggest roster decisions each franchise in the NFL faces published by ESPN also has the quarterback situation as New England’s top priority:
Refurbishing the quarterback pipeline. Put aside any offseason storylines surrounding Tom Brady and start here: He’ll be 41 in August with two years left on his contract. It’s simply smart business to invest in and develop a young quarterback, something the Patriots have shown themselves capable of in recent years. The team used a seventh-round pick in 2018 on Danny Etling out of LSU, whom they’ll work with in a developmental role in camp. The Patriots also brought in last week recently cut signal-caller Christian Hackenberg for a visit. Perhaps more pertinent to note is that they now have an extra second-round pick in 2019 already and potentially three third-round picks, giving them draft capital to find a young signal-caller.
As noted in the paragraph, the Patriots have a) shown an ability to add high-upside college players in the past (see: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer), and b) should be able to position themselves well during next year’s draft: they are currently projected to have 12 selections – half of which in the first three rounds. Unless Etling exceeds expectations, New England could very well spend one (or more, in case a trade is made) of those picks on a quarterback.
The quarterback position is not just New England’s biggest question looking ahead, it also is for the three other teams in the AFC East: The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets both drafted passers in the first round this year and need to find a way to turn them into NFL-caliber players. The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, are counting on Ryan Tannehill to come back strong after sitting out all of 2017 due to an ACL tear.
All this shows that the next few months will have a profound impact on the division’s future.