While no official decision has been made just yet, and likely will not be until the on-field portion of offseason workouts can begin, it seems as if second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham is the front-runner to take over the starting role vacated when Tom Brady decided to leave the New England Patriots to sign a free agency deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stidham was Brady’s understudy in 2019, and has impressed the team with his work and growth during practice and behind the scenes.
It remains to be seen how this development translates to the field, and whether or not Stidham can adequately fill the biggest shoes in the NFL, but there is some confidence surrounding him — at least when listening to some of his former teammates and companions. Take his former college coach, Gus Malzahl, as an example: earlier this month, Malzahn said he expects that “the moment won’t be too big for him” and that Stidham “will be up to the challenge”.
Malzahn’s statements were rather unsurprising, considering how coaches generally tend to speak about their former players. But even those whose legacy may not be that closely tied to Stidham’s eventual development at the next level expressed their confidence in the 23-year-old. One of his former teammates at Auburn, current New York Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton, for example, spoke highly about him during a recent appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“I think people should know that Jarrett is one of the hardest working football players I’ve ever been around,” Slayton said. “He’s truly a student of the game, and I think that’s why he’s going to have a chance to be a really good quarterback for the Patriots — because I know he’s going to put the time in. The arm and all that stuff, you know, that’s all God-given. [He’s] got that already. I think the separator that makes Tom Brady great is putting the time in and having the knowledge, and I think Jarrett is cut from that same kind of cloth.”
Slayton and Stidham spent two seasons together at Auburn, during which the team went 18-9 while the young passer posted some solid numbers along the way: he completed 63.6 percent of his passing attempts (470 of 739) for a total of 5,952 yards while also throwing 36 touchdowns as well as 11 interceptions. Slayton was on the receiving end of 10 scoring passes between the 2017 and 2018 seasons before joining the Giants as a fifth-round draft pick last offseason.
At that point, Stidham had already been selected by the Patriots and was joined by tight end Benjamin Watson a short time later: the veteran decided to end his retirement after just four months, to return to his old stomping grounds. Watson went on to spend the majority of the 2019 season alongside Stidham, and he apparently also left with a positive impression before heading into retirement for a second time earlier this year.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys who come in with a lot of hype who didn’t pan out,” the 39-year-old said during an appearance on FS1’s First Things First last month. “I’ve seen guys who came in under the radar and turned into superstars. Stidham has all that there needs to be for somebody who’s going to be successful. He’s a student of the game. You hear that a lot, but what that really means is that when we’re in the meeting rooms, he’s paying attention.”
“He’s eager to learn, and he has a certain humility about him, with confidence. He had a chance to learn under arguably the greatest quarterback to play the game. He soaked that in for a year. Patriots fans should be confident that he wouldn’t be in that room if Coach [Bill] Belichick didn’t think he could help the team,” Watson continued about Tom Brady’s presumptive heir.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury may not have spent any prolonged period of time working with Stidham like Slayton or Watson did, but he still kept a close eye on him throughout the years as he pointed out during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni and Fauria show last week.
“I’ve actually known Jarrett Stidham a long time,” the former Texas Tech head coach said about the former four-star high school recruit. “He was committed to me for about a year, and so I have always had a high regard of him as a player and as a person. I know they are very high on him up there in New England. I am excited to watch him play. I cheer for Texas kids and I think he definitely has the ability.”
“It is going to be hard to replace the greatest of all-time, but Josh [McDaniels] and those guys up there do a phenomenal job of developing QBs and if they feel confident in him, I feel confident in what they have going on,” Kingsbury continued. “I am excited to watch him play. Tremendous thrower of the football. Really comes out clean. I remember watching him when he was 16 years old and the ball jumped out of his hands at that age.”
Stidham has received some glowing reviews so far this offseason, but he has yet to show that he can live up to them: during his 2019 rookie regular season, he attempted a mere four passes, with one of them ending in a pick-six. The Patriots will count on him taking the famous second-year jump, but so far there is no definitive telling whether or not he will actually succeed in doing that.