The New England Patriots, who lost future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in free agency, have not yet named a starting quarterback for the 2020 season and will likely wait until the start of offseason workouts or training camp — whenever they may come in light of the current health crisis — to tip their hand. That said, second-year passer Jarrett Stidham appears to be the favorite right now to take over Brady’s former role within the offense.
The Patriots originally acquired Stidham in the fourth round of last year’s draft, and over the summer he was able to beat out veteran Brian Hoyer for the number two spot behind Brady. And while his in-season playing time was limited — he was on the field for only 15 offensive snaps over three games and attempted a mere four passes — the rookie did see time with the starting offense during practice and left a positive impression behind the scenes.
So much so that New England’s star cornerback Stephon Gilmore credited him with helping him become a better defender in practice. While Gilmore’s praise may fall under the category of “coach’s speak” a bit, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year is not the only veteran on the team’s roster to speak highly of the 23-year-old. In fact, three of the Patriots’ team captains also recently expressed confidence in his abilities.
“I love how he’s come in, he’s eager to learn, great personality, great attitude, like a lot of the guys in the locker room. He’s been one of the more mature guys that comes in and just does the work,” said safety Devin McCourty during a recent conference call. “He’s a hard worker... but I know if I say something it’s a headline tomorrow. He’s a hard worker, he comes in, he works hard. He did a great job this year of coming in and trying to compete.”
“Brother Stid is a great kid, and I think that’s the thing that is going to matter the most with any player — who is he as a man, who is he as a person, what’s he motivated by?” added special teams ace Matthew Slater. “He’s just a great kid to be around. He brings a lot of positive energy, he’s always got a smile on his face, and you can tell he’s very appreciative of the opportunity that he had last year and the opportunity that he’ll have going forward.”
Following the departures of Brady and place kicker Stephen Gostkowski earlier this offseason, Slater and McCourty now rank first and third on the list of longest continuously tenured Patriots (wide receiver Julian Edelman ranks second). But while they spent all of their careers playing alongside the most successful quarterback of all time, they both feel good about the man who might just have to fill the biggest shoes in league history.
“Certainly he has a lot of great qualities that can make him a good player at the quarterback position,” said Slater about Stidham. “Coach Belichick and his staff wouldn’t have brought him in here if they didn’t think he had those qualities. I think at that position, almost more than any other, it’s going to be the intangibles that get a guy to maybe a successful position. I think he’s got some good traits. I think he’s going to be a good player.”
Neither Slater nor McCourty will work all that closely with Stidham, though, considering that they are almost exclusively used in the kicking game and on defense, respectively. One player who will see a lot of snaps with the Patriots’ next quarterback — as noted above, Stidham is the favorite to earn that title as things currently stand — is running back and fellow team captain James White. And the 28-year-old also spoke highly of Stidham.
“Guys come and go each and every year, so you have to be able to compete with new people. We’re confident in Stidham, confident in Hoyer, whoever it happens to be,” said the six-year veteran, who was voted a captain for the second straight year in 2019. “[Stidham] came in and competed right away. Our offense can be pretty complex, and he was willing to learn, willing to take coaching. He was fighting no matter what the situation was.”
Like Stidham, White also saw only irregular playing time during his first year in the NFL: the former fourth-round draft pick played only 31 offensive snaps during the 2014 season, before breaking out as the Patriots’ primary receiving back one year later. Stidham taking a similar leap between Years One and Two would be the best-case-scenario from New England’s perspective, and White sounds confident in the quarterback’s ability to make it.
“The second year, he’ll come in ready to learn,” the three-time Super Bowl winner said. “For me, Year Two was huge. There’s some guys on our team who didn’t play their first year or didn’t play that much. They’re going to come in that second year, the expectations are going to be a little bit higher. You know the offense, you know the defense, you know the special teams, now it’s just time to go out there and execute everything.”
“I’m excited just going forward, I think our team as a whole... young guys who didn’t get a lot of opportunities last year, guys who got hurt, we have a couple guys like that, that will now be able to go out there for next year and have the opportunity to help the team in different ways,” added McCourty. “I think [Stidham] falls in that category along with some other players on the offensive line, different guys I think will get an opportunity now that we didn’t get to see last year.”
But while the door is open for Stidham to make the famed second-year jump and as a result earn the Patriots’ starting quarterback position, Slater pointed out that he will still need to put the necessary work in to position himself well: “His attack, his approach is going to have to be one day at a time, just like any of us. I think it’s important — and I’ll certainly encourage him — just to be himself. Be himself, continue to be the person that he is, continue to be the teammate that he is, and we’ll just take this thing one day at a time.”