With the news of Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots to play for another organization — likely the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the team will have to find a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2001. The situation isn’t the same as in 2008, when Brady spent most of the year on Injured Reserve, however, or 2016 where he was suspended four games due to Deflategate. He is gone for good this time. With Brady out of the picture, that means the Patriots will have to quickly evaluate their QB situation.
The two quarterbacks on the roster right now are Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round selection in the previous draft, and Cody Kessler, a former starter for the Cleveland Browns three seasons ago. The Patriots could opt to trade for a veteran like Derek Carr or Andy Dalton, but given their current salary cap and draft pick situations, I’m not sure if they will be able to. So, that leaves the Patriots with two realistic options: Stidham or Kessler.
Both quarterbacks should have an opportunity to lay claim to the QB1 job next season, although I’m more optimistic that Stidham will win that competition. The Patriots might add a veteran backup who can fill in on days Stidham just doesn’t have it as well as play a mentor role for the young signal caller. Based on what I watched in last year’s preseason, however, Stidham has the physical tools to be a quality starting QB.
The main issue at play will be how fast he can process the game and be able to move through his progressions. He has the arm strength to make all the throws, is fairly agile enough to escape the first wave of pressure, and has solid leadership skills, but the finer aspects of the position that we took for granted from Brady over the years will need to be developed.
Throwing Stidham in the fire will still be in the Patriots’ best interests long-term. There are going to be three likely outcomes:
1. Stidham stinks and the Patriots become a 6-8 win team: That’s not necessarily bad news, because that likely means the team will have the draft capital necessary to be able to find its next quarterback in the 2021 draft. The team may also undergo a one-to-two-year rebuild during which it hoards draft picks similar to the 2009-201, which help the Patriots reload for another three championships between 2014 and 2018.
2. Stidham is mediocre and the Patriots are a 8-10 win team: This might actually be the worst outcome of the three, because it means Stidham probably is not the guy but the team lacks the draft capital necessary to acquire its next franchise quarterback. With the team unlikely good enough to compete for postseason play, Bill Belichick will either have to rebuild or mortgage the future for one Super Bowl run. Given his past behaviors, tough, the latter is unlikely.
3. Stidham shows QB1 promise and the Patriots win another AFC East title: This is worst case scenario for the rest of the NFL, but best case for those rooting for the Patriots and/or Stidham. That means the team will have its next signal caller on a rookie deal and cap space in the 2021 offseason to make improvements to the roster.
Any of those three outcomes will help Belichick be able to chart a course for what’s next for his team, although I believe scenarios No. 2 and No. 3 are more likely than No. 1, with 2 appearing to be the most likely at the moment. The Brady departure will definitely test the team and probably make for more Grumpy Bill press conferences, although I think there is enough leadership on the current roster to keep it afloat as long as Stidham is capable of not losing games.
The team’s future may be uncertain, but soon enough we’ll have a good idea of what it will eventually look like.