As NFL free agency is just about a month away, the New England Patriots have an unusual question mark at the quarterback position.
Resigning Brady still should be New England’s Plan A, but if the signal caller decides to dawn a new jersey for the first time in his 21-year career, Plan B could already be on New England’s roster.
The Patriots selected quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft. The gunslinger quickly made a strong impression in his first training camp in New England, earning the backup quarterback job over veteran Brian Hoyer.
Stidham only appeared in three games however, mopping up a total of 15 snaps while throwing just four passes. But due to injuries that hampered Tom Brady throughout the year, Stidham got plenty of work on the back fields of Gillette.
“There have been a couple examples where Tom hasn’t been able to do a lot this year,” Bill Belichick said back in mid-December. “So, that’s given Stid an opportunity to go with the first group, and run our plays and run our offense, and that’s been good for him.”
Since the season concluded, reports from NFL Network said that Stidham “definitely improved” and “made progress” throughout his rookie year:
Checked in on Jarrett Stidham's season-long development with someone who knows. "Great kid. Has worked hard. Definitely improved. Definitely made progress. Really never know how it will go until he has to play." #Patriots— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) February 12, 2020
While it would be impossible to tell if the former Auburn Tiger would be able to replace Brady if needed next season, New England would be flexible financially, allowing them to surround him with talent all over the field.
Stidham’s current cap hit sits just under $750k, accounting for just 0.36 percent of the Patriots current salary cap; a large difference compared to Brady’s $21.5 million cap hit that accounted for 10.73 percent of the Patriots cap last year.
With the saved money, New England could resign their own All-Pro guard Joe Thuney, as well as defensive players Devin McCourty, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins if the team chose too. New England would also be able to easily sign or trade for several talented offensive threats to surround Stidham with, much like the reigning Super Bowl champions did with Patrick Mahomes.
With Mahomes still on his rookie contract, counting just about $4.5 million against the Chiefs salary cap (2.36 percent), Kansas City was able sign offensive threats Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins to big contracts.
Even with more talent around him, it’s still no guarantee Stidham would be the next guy under center in Foxboro. But if he plays well, Belichick has found his next guy and built a super talented team around him.
If he plays bad? Then perhaps the Patriots are in position to draft their next franchise quarterback (Trevor Lawrence anyone?). New England could then role with whoever they choose to draft, on their rookie deal, along with the talent they acquire this offseason.
Bill Belichick has always had the next man-up mantra, and it could be Stidham’s turn sooner than we thought.