Since Tom Brady announced his departure from New England nearly six weeks ago, there’s been speculation as to who would end up being the Patriots starter under center for the 2020 season. Some veteran quarterback names that have been thrown in the hat by the media included Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, and Cam Newton as a potential Brady replacement. The Patriots have neither pursued any of those players in free agency, electing instead to use that money to franchise tag Joe Thuney, nor selected a quarterback in the draft.
One of those veteran QB options has since become available, as the Cincinnati Bengals have elected to release Andy Dalton. Dalton was scheduled to make $17.5 million in the 2020 season had any team elected to trade for him. Instead, he’ll now be able to find a new team to sign for. The Patriots, in theory, would be a team that he could compete for a starting job. However, the cost to sign Dalton would already be prohibitive to the Patriots as they have about $1.67 million in cap space available, according to Patriots Cap guru Miguel Benzan.
To sign Dalton, the Patriots would likely have to free up at least $6MM+ in salary cap space. The only way New England will be able to generate that type of space is to either extend or move Joe Thuney and/or other key veterans on the roster. A trade of Thuney seems unlikely, as that opens up a hole at the left guard position without a capable replacement since the draft has already come and gone.
In addition to having to open up space to add Dalton, he’s going to a team with a completely different offensive system. Dalton at his best is a capable game manager with solid mobility and arm strength, but also has a penchant for turnovers when the play breaks down. I doubt Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would be happy about Dalton’s turnovers, as ball security is the number one thing he preaches for the offense.
The team’s offseason moves suggest they’re ready to go to battle with Jarrett Stidham at QB. In the pre-season, he flashed potential starter traits with good arm strength and accuracy. He also had some good fortune on some turnover-worthy passes that were dropped or bounced to the ground, but also showcased some big-time throws such as the back-shoulder touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants.
The competition Stidham played against in the pre-season is obviously a step down from what he will face in the regular season as he will be up against superior players and more complex schemes. If the game is too big for Stidham early on in 2020, the Patriots still have a high-functioning backup with five+ years of experience in this offense in offseason (re-)addition Brian Hoyer.
During the 2019 season, he got some reps with the first team offense in practice as Brady was nursing minor injuries so the team has some information on how he’d handle that role from a practice standpoint. From the locker room, the team’s most-respected veterans (James White, Stephon Gilmore, and Devin McCourty) have all put their confidence in the second-year QB. Building that level of confidence in your teammates is half the battle at the quarterback position, as the game is not only taxing physically but also mentally. Players who believe in their QB will be more willing to go all-out and risk their mind, body, and soul for the good of the team.
There will be some growing pains as Stidham will inevitably make some rookie mistakes, but the potential upside for a starting quarterback on a fourth-round rookie salary is worth gambling on. The team will have a massive war chest next off-season to go make big moves next off-season and if Stidham proves to be a starter, then they have a competitive advantage for at least one season. If Stidham ultimately flops when the lights get bright, then at least they tried and will have a better chance to grab a QB next offseason.
Should the Patriots sign Andy Dalton to compete with Jarrett Stidham for the starting QB job?
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