Ever since filling in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and subsequently leading the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl win, Tom Brady had been undisputed as the team’s starting quarterback. Over the almost two decades since, he has helped the Patriots establish the most impressive dynasty in NFL history and himself as the greatest to ever play his position. Replacing a man of this stature and quality is a near-impossible task, and yet one New England will face in 2020.
With Brady having left the Patriots in free agency to take his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team will have to find a new starting quarterback. At the time being, it has the following four who are set to enter one of the most intriguing training camp battles in recent memory:
QB Cam Newton, QB Jarrett Stidham, QB Brian Hoyer, QB Brian Lewerke
New England’s current quarterback room is filled with experience and youth. On the one hand, you have Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer. Newton is a former number one overall draft pick who spent the first nine years of his career as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback, earning league MVP honors in 2015 and leading the team to one Super Bowl. Hoyer, meanwhile, first arrived in New England as an undrafted rookie in 2009 and after two separate stints as Tom Brady’s backup rejoined the club earlier this offseason.
On the other end of the experience spectrum are Jarrett Stidham and Brian Lewerke. Stidham was drafted in the fourth round last year and went on to beat out Hoyer for the QB2 spot behind Brady before seeing minimal playing time during his rookie season. Lewerke arrived in New England just this spring when the team signed him as an undrafted free agent. He was released earlier this summer when the Patriots cut their roster from 90 to 80 players, but was brought back after player opt-outs opened up additional space on the team.
The deciding factors
Decision making: While even he was not immune to the occasional error, Brady was as good as any quarterback in football when it came to taking care of the football and making sound decisions on a play-to-play basis. This approach fit perfectly with what the team wanted to accomplish on offense: control the ball and the pace of the game, while limiting opportunities for the opponent. This plan is closely tied to making the right calls, and it will not change with in a post-Brady environment.
Football IQ: The Patriots’ offensive system is notorious for being one of the most complex in the NFL, but it worked because of Brady’s abilities to master it: he is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks the league has ever seen, and it showed on the field. There was no coverage he could not dissect, no blitz package he had not seen before either on film or in action. While a lot of this has to do with experience, New England’s next quarterback will also have to be able to use his mind and football IQ to lead the offense — not just his physical skills.
Fundamentals and technique: You can be the smartest guy on the field, but if you do not have the proper fundamentals you will still not find plenty of success. Whether it is footwork, hip movements or throwing motion, New England’s next starting quarterback will have to show that he can successfully apply his technique no matter the situation. While it is too early to tell how the four men in the quarterback room will eventually develop in this area, Jarrett Stidham did show some positive strides already by compacting his release (as was pointed out by CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar on Wednesday).
Consistency: When Brady announced his decision to leave the Patriots in mid-March, head coach Bill Belichick released a statement in which he praised, among other things, the veteran’s consistency. Being able to play on the same high level play after play, drive after drive, and game after game is what made Brady the player he was during his time in New England — and it is also something that Newton, Stidham, Hoyer and Lewerke will have to show in order to separate themselves from their competition.
Leadership and poise: The quarterback position is the most important in the game, and its importance goes beyond touching and distributing the football on every offensive play. Quarterbacks also need to be able to rally the troops around them, and to show the proper poiseNobody was better than Brady when it came to this, and the Patriots’ new starting quarterback will has to show similar traits — from being able to push the right buttons with his teammates to calmly using the aforementioned fundamentals even in high-pressure situations.
Sorry, Brian Lewerke, the odds are against you becoming the Patriots’ starting quarterback this year. This would leave three men to compete for the job, but based on his track record and the fact that he was beaten out last summer as well, it also seems unlikely that Brian Hoyer will come away as the QB1 this training camp. Accordingly, the battle will be between second-year man Jarrett Stidham and offseason acquisition Cam Newton.
Based on pedigree and experience, Newton should be seen as the frontrunner to earn the job: he has a proven track record in the NFL and an elite athletic skillset despite his recent injury issues (Newton ended both his 2018 and 2019 seasons on the sidelines). That does not mean Stidham doesn’t stand a chance against the veteran, especially given that the team is still high on his potential and he had some impressive moments last summer. However, the situation is a difficult one for the youngster coming off a truncated offseason.
At the end of the day, however, anything is possible. The only thing we do know is that the Patriots, for the first time in almost 20 years, are entering training camp without a clear-cut starter at the game’s most important position.