Up until Sunday morning the thought outside One Patriot Place was that the New England Patriots would head into their 2020 training camp with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer competing for the starting quarterback position. Stidham, the second-year man who is said to have impressed the team behind the scenes during his 2019 rookie campaign, on the one hand, and on the other Hoyer, the grizzled veteran who returned during the offseason for his third stint with the club.
The outlook, however, changed when the team signed Cam Newton to a one-year contract to help replace the departed Tom Brady.
Newton, of course, adds a new dimension to the competition for the QB1 spot. Not only does he have the experience of nine years as the starting quarterback with the Carolina Panthers, he also was named the league’s most valuable player in 2015 and has a combined 124 regular season starts as well as seven playoff contests on his résumé. Neither Stidham nor Hoyer can compete with him in terms of acumen and athletic upside.
The question therefore becomes what his addition means for the complexion of the Patriots’ quarterback position, and Stidham’s role as a part of it in particular. The former fourth-round draft pick was widely viewed as the team’s possible answer to the question who the team saw as the heir to Tom Brady, especially after New England decided not to invest a draft pick at the position or go after a passer other than Hoyer during the official portion of free agency. Now, he could be looking at another season as a backup.
As Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston pointed out, however, the Patriots will still have a plan in mind for the 23-year-old — one that could look similar to how they approached former second-round investment Jimmy Garoppolo during his 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Garoppolo spent both those years as the number two quarterback behind Brady before getting a chance to start in place of the future Hall of Famer during his suspension in the early parts of the 2016 season. The story from that point on is well-known, of course: Garoppolo was eventually shipped to the San Francisco 49ers ahead of the following year’s trade deadline, to sign a multi-million dollar contract and lead the team to the Super Bowl during the 2019 season.
As for Stidham, he might be on a similar path as Garoppolo was back then. Curran outlined the potential advantages of him spending one more year behind the scenes:
If Newton comes in and performs as one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the league this season on his one-year deal, he’ll be back at the table as a free agent in 2021 expecting a deal that pays him at least the going rate. That would start at $25M per. If the Patriots are committed to staying out of the high-priced quarterback business, they can push away from the table and then Stidham — with another year of learning — can be in the same spot Garoppolo was in 2016. Entering his third season and more than ready for his turn. He will then have two years left on his rookie deal to make his case.
Adding Newton to the equation should therefore not be seen as an indictment on Stidham’s long-term future in New England (an opinion echoed by the sources speaking to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe), but rather shows how the team views its current depth chart at the position relative to the 2020 season. Just look at it this way: with spring workouts canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic and offseason preparation being forced into a virtual setting, Stidham faces an even more challenging situation than “just” replacing a legend.
Frankly said, Newton at the current cost — the deal was reported to be for one year with a maximum value of $7.5 million — was simply too good an option to pass up in free agency. While there are questions surrounding the 31-year-old, especially related to his injury history and his at times inconsistent play after his 2015 MVP campaign, Newton’s proven success and athletic skillset may make him a more attractive and realistic starting option in 2020 than either Stidham or Hoyer.
That being said, it does not mean that Stidham does not have a chance to earn the starting spot against the veteran Newton. However, the Patriots no longer appear to be in as vulnerable a position by having signed the former first overall draft selection in case Stidham fails to take the second-year jump or is not yet ready to fill the biggest shoes in NFL history. Newton therefore single-handedly raised the floor at the position due to his experience and potential upside in the team’s system as it relates to both the passing and the running aspect of his game.
If Stidham wins the quarterback competition during the summer, on the other hand, the Patriots might just have found their quarterback of the future and know that they can trust him to carry the offense beginning this year. If that not happens, though, he could still be the long-term solution at the position. It all depends on his development behind the scenes, in case he is named the number two option behind Newton this year.
No matter how everything works out this summer, two things remain clear: a) Newton presented too good a value for the team at his price tag to not be brought aboard, and b) Stidham will still get every chance to prove that he can be the guy for the organization both in 2020 and beyond.