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Exploring every potential quarterback option for the 2021 Patriots

Related: Cam Newton says it would be ‘remarkable’ to return to New England

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After the Cam Newton one-year experiment did not go as planned, the New England Patriots are back in the quarterback market entering the 2021-22 NFL season. Although this time it is quite different, as the Patriots are loaded with salary cap space and will be picking at No. 15 in the NFL Draft.

The Patriots will not be alone in this market either, as the case can be made for 10-to-12 other teams making a change at the quarterback position. Teams like the New York Jets will have to decide if they want to make another run with Sam Darnold rather than drafting a new gunslinger at No. 2 overall, while other organizations under new regimes, like the Atlanta Falcons, could decide to move on from established veterans like Matt Ryan.

In New England’s case, anything and everything should be on the table. This rebuild will be defined by this particular offseason and more importantly, who Bill Belichick and Co. decide to play quarterback moving forward. The right move would be the catalyst to the Patriots getting back to the top of the league (i.e. the Kansas City Chiefs trading two first-round picks to move up and draft Patrick Mahomes), while the wrong move will keep New England behind the eight ball for years to come (i.e. the Chicago Bears trading four total picks to move up and draft Mitchell Trubisky).

While finding the right quarterback is key for success, improving the weapons at their disposal also needs to be, and will be, a priority for the Patriots this offseason. While Newton gets a large amount of the blame for this season, any quarterback New England brought in was set up for failure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even Tom Brady went 4-5 down the stretch in 2019 with an arguably better supporting cast.

While speaking of Tom Brady, nobody expected replacing him to be easy. In fact, it is impossible. Finding another sixth-round quarterback to lead a 20-year dynasty that includes six Super Bowl championships will never happen again. So, Patriots fans, stop comparing every quarterback the Patriots trot out there to the GOAT himself.

Moving forward, for the Patriots to find their next guy, no stone should remained unturned. Every potential option needs to be analyzed, from rookies in this year’s draft, to veterans on bridge type deals, to finding the next Ryan Tannehill, or perhaps a trade for an established veteran. When viewing these potential candidates, Belichick and Josh McDaniels should first reflect on the past season. For the first time in 20 years, they had a mobile, dual-threat quarterback under center. If they enjoyed having a multi-threat at the position, that could open the door for a player like Trey Lance or even a Cam Newton return. If the mobile quarterback did not fit New England’s style of offense, the focus turns to more of a pocket passer like Jimmy Garoppolo or Matt Stafford.

Besides the quarterback position, the Patriots’ current roster has plenty of other holes to fill. In an offseason that many teams will be tight against the cap due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Patriots are projected to have around $60 million in salary cap space — fourth most in the NFL. New England will have a distinct spending advantage over half of the league, but that cap space could shrivel up rather quickly, especially if a $20-plus million deal is shelled out to their next quarterback.

That raises the question, is a rookie quarterback on his first NFL contract the best option for New England? Teams have been successful the past few years building competitive teams around their quarterback on a rookie contract, such as the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes (before his $500 million mega-extension) and the Buffalo Bills with Josh Allen. Earlier this season, Belichick himself noted the advantage of building a roster around a rookie quarterback when discussing Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.

His comments could come back into play this offseason:

“It’s certainly changed the roster building a lot. Teams that have had young quarterbacks that have been productive have been able to take those resources and put those into other positions on the team and then once the quarterbacks hit their, let’s call it, close to market value-type contracts, then that process shifts a little bit in some way, whether it’s cap borrowing or just less spending on other positions because you reallocate it to the quarterback. But, that quarterback number is generally such a high number, or if it’s a low number, it creates quite a bit of extra spending dollars. It’s an important component to the roster building strategy that you just referred to, absolutely.”

New England will certainly have their hands full when exploring the quarterback position this offseason. Again, every option out there should be explored, so why not explore them for ourselves:

In-house options

San Francisco 49ers v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Cam Newton

Projected contract: One-year, $20 million

Update: Cam Newton resigned with the New England Patriots on a one-year, $5.4 million contract with a max value of $14 million.

The Patriots’ one-year deal with Cam Newton did not go exactly as planned, but it wasn't exactly Newton’s fault. After playing just two games last season before undergoing surgery on his injured foot, Newton signed with New England on July 8 — after the team’s spring offseason meetings. He then had no preseason games to become familiar with his new team’s offense; once the season started, Newton had to work around Covid-19 restrictions, missed two weeks of practice after testing positive for the virus himself, and worked with one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. In addition, he was not able to see his kids all season, missing two birthdays, holidays, and lifelong memories like his one-year old’s first steps. On top of all that, he dealt with the unfair expectations of replacing TB12.

However, one constant took place throughout the entire year for Newton and that was Bill Belichick’s support. Whenever it seemed like it was finally Jarrett Stidham time, Belichick took the podium and said something along the lines of “Cam is our quarterback” or “Cam gives us the best chance to win.”

It certainly wasn't perfect on the field this season. Newton has been fine for the Patriots on the field, not good enough to carry their lackluster offense but not bad enough either to shoulder the entire blame. In fact, Newton was the Patriots’ best offensive player for stretches of the season.

Off the field is a different story, as the 31-year old has done everything right throughout his time in Foxboro. Newton took responsibility for the Patriots poor play, was voted a team captain before the season and fully bought into the “Patriot Way.” In a short manner of time, Newton became a highly respected presence in the locker room who provides high levels of energy and professionalism to the organization.

Despite comments before the Week 17 matchup with the New York Jets that seemed to hint Newton’s time in New England was coming to an end — as well as Adam Schefter’s “report” — his name should certainly remain in play when exploring quarterback options for 2021. With a full, normal offseason and a much improved supporting cast around him, next year could be an entirely different story than this season. If Belichick and McDaniels liked having a dual-threat quarterback, having Newton under center to start next year is certainly in the cards — even if he is just a bridge-type option.

Jarrett Stidham

Remaining contract: Two years, $2.13 million

It was not the second year Stidham was imagining once Tom Brady left town. Previously viewed as “the next guy,” Stidham’s sophomore campaign got off to a horrid start. Believe what you want about offseason weddings and so forth, but on the field, he threw seven interceptions and injured his hip during the first four training camp practices. As Newton was then deemed the starter, Stidham did not start a single game all season for the Patriots. He did see more playing time (five games) in a relief role, where he completed 50 percent of his passes (22-of-44) for two touchdowns and three interceptions.

It’s certainly tough to fairly evaluate the 2019 fourth-round pick as he has yet to start a game in his career. But, in his limited action, Stidham has not shown any signs of being “the guy” moving forward.

Following Brady’s departure and Newton’s several in game demotions, Stidham had numerous shots at taking over the starting job and he was not able to capitalize on any of them. Maybe Belichick did not want to just throw the 24-year-old into the middle of the fire, as a Week 17 start against the Jets might not have provided the Patriots with a worthwhile evaluation. Either way, the Patriots goal this year was to win every time they took the field and they consistently rode with Newton — and Brian Hoyer — over Stidham.

Despite the second-year struggles, the book is not officially closed on Stidham. He still has two years remaining on his rookie contract and it would be quite the surprise if he was not rostered by the time training camp rolled around. However, if New England truly thought he’d be in the mix to be the Patriots starter when the 2021 season rolls around, he would have likely also received a chance this year.

Free Agents

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Dak Prescott

Projected contract: Four years, $150 million

Update: Dak Prescott resigned with the Dallas Cowboys on a four-year, $160 million contract.

Prescott would be the dream for any quarterback-needy team this offseason. Despite suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that prematurely ended his 2020 season, the 27-year-old is still in line for a massive pay day this offseason. It’s unlikely Prescott will hit the open market, as Dallas could use the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive season — which, for Prescott, is valued at $37.7 million. However, there is a potential path towards Prescott leaving Dallas. Following the Cowboys’ 6-10 season, they will select 10th in this year’s draft. In a strong quarterback class, perhaps Jerry Jones and Co. are inclined to pick a younger talent on a cheaper contract, while letting Dak walk. It certainly would be a confusing decision, but one that could potentially be made.

If Prescott was to hit the open market, a massive bidding war for his duties would certainly follow. Due to New England’s projected ample amount of salary cap space, they should certainly be involved. He’s the cream of the crop in terms of potential available quarterbacks this year and he’ll be paid like it.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Projected contract: One-year, $10 million fully guaranteed

Update: Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Washington Football Team.

Who doesn't love a little Fitzmagic? Even at age 38, Fitzpatrick has played some of the best football of his career the past two years. The gunslinger is known for his aggressiveness, which might not be the perfect match with the Patriots current offensive talent (which most likely will be updated this offseason). But, Fitzpatrick was still able to produce the past two years in Miami, who are not the most offensively talented team in the league either.

As the two-year contract he signed back in 2019 is set to expire, it seems unlikely he will be back in South Beach. While the veteran would continue to be a great backup (reliever?) for Tua Tagovailoa, Fitzpatrick clearly wants a chance to start elsewhere. He should have his fair share of suitors too, as teams were calling about him at last year’s trade deadline once he was moved to the bench.

Regarding the Patriots, modeling their AFC East foe, the Miami Dolphins, could be the perfect recipe for success. Signing Fitzpatrick to a short-term deal would allow New England to develop a younger quarterback — whether that’s Stidham, a rookie, or someone else — behind him. A one-year deal for Fitzpatrick should cost the Patriots around $10 million, which would leave them with plenty of ammo to address other roster needs.

Philip Rivers

Projected contract: One-year, $25 million fully guaranteed

Update: Phillip Rivers has retired from the National Football League after 17 seasons.

Rivers and the Colts were a match made in heaven this offseason. The 39-year old was up-and-down on the year, but got the 11-5 Colts into the playoffs. Father Time has certainly caught up to Rivers, as Jacoby Brissett often was featured in run packages and the deteriorating arm strength was noticeable. It’s not like Rivers was ever a dual-threat QB, but his lack of mobility is a true issue.

Despite the physical decline, Rivers was more than capable this season. He was certainly the beneficiary of playing with one of the best offensive lines and defenses in the league, while surrounded with a solid group of wide receivers and running backs. It doesn't seem like the veteran would be as good of a fit in New England based on the weapon discrepancy and situation with Indianapolis. At worst, Rivers would be a veteran bridge quarterback to a younger option, and most likely will do so with Indianapolis for another season if he does not retire.

Old Faces, New Places

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Matt Ryan

Acquire contract: Three years, $74.75 million

Update: Matt Ryan renegotiated his contract to convert $21 million of his 2021 salary into bonus.

After back-to-back playoff trips in 2016 and 2017 — including an appearance in Super Bowl 53 — Ryan and the Falcons have posted three straight losing seasons. With Atlanta now set to hire a new general manager and head coach next season, the new regime could look to move on from their veteran quarterback, a thought confirmed by team owner Arthur Blank.

If the Falcons are to move on from Ryan, it would most likely come in a post June 1st trade — a deadline the Patriots probably won't want to wait for. That would leave Atlanta with dead cap hits of $17.9 million in 2021 and $26.5 million in 2022, but save them $23 million and $15.1 million in cap space in their respective years. New England would acquire the remaining three years, $74.75 million on Ryan’s contract, but just $5.5 million would be fully guaranteed in 2021. The Patriots would also have to surrender some potential high draft capital to acquire him.

The Falcons are set to pick fourth in the year’s NFL Draft, so they would have no problem replacing the 13-year veteran with a talented, young gun slinger. However, the path to acquiring the 35-year old might not make too much sense for New England, as Ryan’s best days are also certainly behind him.

Matt Stafford

Projected contract: Two years, $45 million fully guaranteed

Update: Matt Stafford has been traded to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff, a 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-rounder, and a 2021 third-rounder.

Stafford has been a popular name when discussing the Patriots offseason quarterback search. Like Ryan, the veteran could be on the move as Detroit will bring in their third general manager and fifth head coach since drafting Stafford first overall in 2009.

Stafford’s career has been an interesting one. His numbers are on par with several other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but he has only lead the Lions to the playoffs on three occasions (losing all three times). He’s proven to be one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league and would perhaps find more success once removed from the disastrous Detroit organization.

If Detroit’s new regime wants a fresh start, it could come rather quickly as Stafford is owed a $10 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2021 league year (early March). A trade or release before that date would leave Detroit with a $24.85 million dead cap hit next year, while saving them $10.1 million of salary cap for the 2021 season. If traded, a team would acquire the remaining two-years, $43 million on Stafford’s deal. However, with the roster bonus looming, a trade market could be bare as the Lions may be forced to outright release their veteran. The 33-year old would then hit free agency, where the Patriots could sign him to a deal that was similar to his remaining contract. Stafford could be an ideal fit for the next Patriots’ quarterback.

Derek Carr

Acquired contract: Two years, $39.5 million

Carr has played the best football of his career the past two years under Jon Gruden, but their relationship never has seemed to be great. The conservative play-style and inconsistency of Carr has often seemed to irritate Gruden; so has the quarterback’s original five-year, $125 million deal. With it now winding down, 2021 would be the chance for Las Vegas to move on.

Moving the 29-year-old quarterback would be rather easy in terms of salary cap for Vegas. A trade or release would free up over $19.6 million, while carrying a dead cap hit of just $2.5 million. If Vegas is given a deal they can't refuse, or have a better option in mind — perhaps backup Marcus Mariota who impressed in his Week 15 action — Carr could be on his way out of town.

Acquiring the seven-year veteran could certainly be in the cards for New England, but it might not make the most sense. Likewise with Ryan, the Raiders asking price will likely start with a first-round draft pick. A move for New England to acquire Carr would make the most since if he was to hit the open market, but it appears unlikely at this time the Raiders would outright release him.

Deshaun Watson

Acquired contract: Five years, $146.5 million

Welcome to Houston, Nick Caserio! Acquiring Watson would be the dream for several NFL teams. A top talent in the league, Watson is reportedly “extremely unhappy” with the Houston organization after he was promised to be involved in the GM and coach hiring process and was not. Watson has also reportedly already begun to ponder the possibility of requesting a trade, as the four-year, $165 million extension he signed in September has yet to even kick in.

If Caserio and the Texans were to move the 25-year-old star, it is not as difficult as the contract may make it seem. A pre-June 1st trade would leave Houston with a $21.6 million dead cap hit, but would still cost them over $5.6 million on their salary cap this season. Trading Watson — who also has a no trade clause — could also help the Texans recoup some of the draft capital they lost in the Laremy Tunsil trade, as a package could start with three first-round draft picks. It’s a huge price to pay, but one some team may be willing to pony up for one the best quarterbacks in the league.

Now, to ruin the fun, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Texans would trade Watson “under no circumstances”, even if he asks for a trade. There’s a 99 percent chance this won't happen, but let’s have fun dreaming.

Russell Wilson

Acquired Contract: Three years, $69 million

After recent reports that Russell Wilson has “grown increasingly frustrated” by the Seahawks’ inability to protect him, teams have started to call Seattle about their franchise quarterback. If Wilson does want out of Seattle, the Patriots should be heavily interested in one of the best quarterbacks the league has to offer.

The 32-year old has three years remaining on the four-year, $140 million extension he signed back in 2019 - a contract that also includes a no trade clause. A trade would leave the Seahawks with $39 million left of total dead money, meaning an acquiring team would have Wilson under contract for the next three years with cap hits of $19 million in ‘21, $24 million in ‘22, and $26 million in ‘23 - a bargain.

New England would have plenty of salary cap space to add Wilson and still add much needed talent around him. Knowing the Seahawks would most likely want to deal Wilson outside of the NFC, the Patriots could have a built in advantage. Even with a leg-up, acquiring the eight-time Pro Bowler will not come cheap. After the Stafford deal, any trade would start with two first-round picks and a player. A potential package from New England for Wilson could look like: No. 15 overall in 2021, 2022 first-round pick, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Reunions

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Garoppolo

Acquired contract: Two years, $50.4 million

The San Francisco 49ers’ 2019 Super Bowl run appeared to have one weak link on their roster: Jimmy Garoppolo. In San Francisco’s first two playoff victories, Garoppolo threw the ball a total of 27 times. When asked to throw 31 times in Super Bowl 54, Garoppolo threw two interceptions and missed Emmanuel Sanders on a potential championship-winning touchdown pass.

Garoppolo does not seem to be cutting it for head coach Kyle Shanahan and now is the perfect time for San Fran to move on from the 29-year-old. After front-loading his original five-year, $137.5 million contract, the 49ers can move on from Garoppolo with just $2.8 million left in total dead money.

As San Francisco made his contract extremely moveable in his later years, Garoppolo negotiated a no-trade clause. If the Patriots came calling, however, it seems like a team he would waiver that clause to join. Remember, Belichick reportedly wanted to choose Jimmy G over Brady at one point and the two continued to remain in touch even after he was traded from New England in 2017.

Since moving on from New England, Garoppolo appears to have fallen more into the “game manager” category rather than the “elite quarterback” the Patriots had once hoped. Jimmy G has struggled to stay healthy throughout his entire career, but he’s familiar with New England and has always been a favorite of Belichick's. A trade for Garoppolo could be similar to the Nick Foles deal last offseason, when the Bears dealt a third- and fifth-round draft pick for the veteran. The Patriots could also take the chance of the 49ers releasing Garoppolo.

Jacoby Brissett

Projected contract: One-year, $7.5 million

Update: Jacoby Brissett signed a one-year, $5 million with the Miami Dolphins.

After trading Brissett in 2017, he has gone on to start 15 games for Indianapolis in both 2017 and 2019. In 2019, Brissett showed flashes on starter capability. He led Indianapolis to seven wins while throwing for 2,942 yards, 18 touchdowns, and six interceptions, adding another four touchdowns on the ground.

If the Patriots enjoyed having a mobile quarterback under center, Brissett would fit that mold. The 28-year-old has experience in the Patriots system and could be a cheap and quality seat-warmer for a potential rookie quarterback. He is not as athletic as Newton, but is able to make plays with his legs both through the air and on the ground:

A Brissett reunion with New England would be much cheaper than the two-year, $30 million extension he signed with Indianapolis back in 2019, as the Patriots 2016 third-round pick has not started a game all season. If the Patriots believe he could help open up their passing game, an incentive-laden deal, like Newton’s this year, could land Brissett back in a Foxboro.

Tannehill-Type Reclamation

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Trubisky

Projected contract: Two years, $18 million

Update: Mitchell Trubisky signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Buffalo Bills.

Trubisky’s up-and-down Bears career ended with, well, an up-and-down season. After getting moved to the bench in favor of Nick Foles, Trubisky has since returned to lead Chicago to the playoffs. Over his last six starts of the regular season, head coach Matt Nagy noted some “real” improvements from the former No. 2 overall pick. It is worth noting however, that Trubisky’s best starts were against the Lions (32nd in opponent passer rating), Texans (31st), Vikings (23rd) and Jaguars (30th).

Either way, after Chicago declined his 2021 fifth-year option in May, Trubisky will enter free agency this offseason. His inconsistency on the field won't net him a huge pay day or guaranteed starting job, but he should be given a chance to compete throughout the offseason. He could land a similar deal to another former No. 2 overall pick, Marcus Mariota, who signed a two-year, $17.6 million deal with Las Vegas back in March. Mariota was not able to see the field as a starter over Derek Carr, but the case could be different for Trubisky. Perhaps a change of scenery could turn Trubisky’s career around, just like Ryan Tannehill’s move to Tennessee.

Marcus Mariota

Projected contract: One-year, $10 million

Update: Marcus Mariota signed a one-year restructured contract with the Las Vegas Raiders worth $3.5 million with a max value of $8 million.

Speaking of Mariota, the second overall pick in 2015 could find his way back on the free agent market this offseason. After signing a two-year deal with Las Vegas last offseason, Mariota has no guaranteed money left on his deal for 2021. That means a release, or trade, of the 27-year old would free up $10.725 million on the cap for the Raiders. With Derek Carr still likely to be QB1, Vegas should find a better use of those funds.

In his one game of action this year, Mariota certainly impressed. He threw for 226 yards and a score while adding another 86 yards and a score on the ground. The former Oregon Duck looked like what many thought Cam Newton would look like this year — a dynamic runner on the ground who was able to buy time in the pocket and make some strong throws. It was a small sample size, but Mariota certainly flashed starter potential. After getting replaced by Tannehill in Tennessee, perhaps Mariota could have a resurgence like his successor. If New England enjoyed the dual-threat quarterback, Mariota could be at the top of their list.

Carson Wentz

Acquired contract: Four years, $90.4 million

Update: Carson Wentz has been traded to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-rounder.

Wentz’s fifth year in the NFL was a disaster, as the former No. 2 overall pick was benched for rookie Jalen Hurts after throwing 15 interceptions, and losing four fumbles, in 12 starts. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Wentz will ask for a trade this offseason, as his relationship with head coach Doug Pederson is “fractured beyond repair.”

To make matters worse for Philadelphia, the four-year, $128 million extension Wentz signed in 2019 has not yet begun. The deal will kick in next season, making an outright release of Wentz almost impossible for the Eagles, meaning a trade will have to be completed and it could happen quickly. Like Stafford, Wentz is due a $10 million roster bonus on the third league day of 2021. Philadelphia could negotiate to push the bonus deadline back, allowing them more time to find a trade partner, but hurting Wentz’s trade value.

The most likely result is a post June 1st trade after the roster bonus is paid. That would leave Philadelphia will dead cap hits of $19.2 million in 2021 and $24.5 million in 2022, while clearing $15.4 million and $6.7 million of cap space over the next two seasons respectively. As for the team acquiring the 27-year old, they would do so with the remaining four years, $90.4 million on his contract. A trade to land Wentz should also come relatively cheap, possibly having to surrender a pair of day two or three draft selections.

Sam Darnold

Acquired contract: One-year, $4.8 million

Update: Sam Darnold was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a sixth-round selection this year as well as second- and fourth-round picks in 2022.

Assuming the Jets do not pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option, they will then have a franchise-altering decision to make this offseason. They can move on from the 2018 third overall pick and draft their new franchise quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick; or they could stick with Darnold while surrounding him with more offensive help (along with a new coach), perhaps even trading down and collecting more draft ammo in the process.

If they choose the former, moving on from Darnold will most likely come via trade — an outright release at any point would save New York just $169,997 in cap space. Trading the 23-year old would result in a dead cap hit of over $5 million, while the team acquiring his services would take on the last year of his rookie deal for roughly $4.8 million. It’s not much to pay a once highly-touted quarterback and a team likely would not have to surrender more than a day three pick to acquire his services.

Throughout Darnold’s three year career, he has played in 38 total games while throwing 39 interceptions and losing seven fumbles. In that same span, the Jets have now gone through two head coaches and have struggled to provide Darnold with quality talent around him. Perhaps it would be a different story on the field with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels on his sideline.

Jameis Winston

Projected contract: One-year, $5 million

Update: Jameis Winston resigned with the New Orleans Saints on a one-year, $5.5 million contract.

After throwing 30 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, and leading the league in passing yards in 2019, Winston took a one-year, $1.1 million deal with New Orleans to backup Drew Brees. However, when Brees went down for multiple weeks with a rib injury, the Saints turned to Taysom Hill instead.

Winston’s aggressive play style will certainly earn him another look as a starter. Perhaps a year sitting under Sean Payton and Drew Brees also helped Winston evolve his game. The former No. 1 overall pick certainly has starter potential that could result in some high-end quarterback play, while at worst providing a quality back-up option. A one-year deal for Winston should be cheap as he barely saw the field this season.

Tua Tagovailoa

Acquired contract: Three years, $10.1 million

Let’s go crazy.

Tua certainly hasn't looked great for the Dolphins in year one, perhaps having to do with the right hip surgery he underwent in November of 2019 and the unconventional offseason due to Covid-19. Now, thanks to the 2019 Laremy Tunsil trade, the Dolphins hold Houston’s first round selection this year — No. 3 overall. In a strong quarterback class, if Miami believes a player like Justin Fields or Zach Wilson is a better option than Tua, it should not be a surprise if they go that route.

As the Patriots will soon find out, selecting the right quarterback will make or break a rebuild. It doesn't matter that Miami selected Tua No. 5 overall last year if there is a better option available this year. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, who moved on from Josh Rosen for Kyler Murray after one season. The Cardinals went on to trade Rosen to Miami for a second- and fifth-round draft pick, a package Miami could recoup two years later for Tua.

Before last year’s draft, there was speculation the Patriots would be interested in moving up for Tua if he fell further than expected in the draft. Belichick obviously has a strong connection with his college coach, Nick Saban, who grew fondly of the lefty throughout his time at Alabama. Of course, that was before the rookies’ struggles this season.

Dwayne Haskins

Projected contract: One-year, $750,000

Update: Dwayne Haskins signed a reserved/future contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Haskins time in Washington was over in a blink of the eye. After throwing 14 interceptions and going 3-10 over his two years as a starter, Haskins was eventually released by the Football Team due to his poor play and a string of off field issues that resulted in him losing his captaincy. After going unclaimed on waivers, Haskins should be an extremely cheap option to bring into camp — along with another quarterback — as an upside option.

There was a reason Haskins was selected 15th overall in 2019. Haskins has a talented arm and is just two years removed from throwing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns at Ohio State. It’s also noteworthy that the 23-year old only started for one-year in college (14 games) and managed only 13 starts in the NFL.

The Patriots should explore all options at quarterback and a cheap deal for Haskins, who could benefit from New England’s strong infrastructure, could not hurt.

Gardner Minshew II

Acquired contract: Two years, $1.8 million

The Jaguars will have a decision to make with Minshew this offseason. As the only way they will not select Trevor Lawerence with No. 1 pick come April 29th is if the world ends (your move, 2021), Minshew will be relegated to the bench for good. Jacksonville will most likely prefer to keep Minshew in a backup role, unless a team is willing to hand over a day three pick for his services. A pre-June 1st trade would only save the Jaguars $802,279 in cap space, while leaving a 2021 dead cap hit of just $95,442; so Jacksonville will be in no rush to make a move before draft night.

After being selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Minshew Mania quickly took over the league. When newly acquired Nick Foles went down with an injury, Minshew stepped in and threw for 21 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions, while leading the Jaguars to a 6-6 record. Minshew was then deemed the starter this year as the team dealt Foles, but appeared in just nine games as he injured his thumb. When he did play, Minshew led the Jaguars to their one win on the year and threw 16 touchdowns in the horrid Jaguars offense.

If the Jaguars would part with Minshew, he could potentially be had for a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick. Like Haskins, he would not be brought with the expectation of being the answer, but would be a logical dart to throw at the quarterback board.

NFL Draft

NCAA Football: Texas State at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

Justin Fields (Ohio State)

We will assume New England has a zero percent chance of manufacturing a way to land Trevor Lawerence, so Fields is next in line. Fields has been extremely impressive as a passer throughout his collegiate career, showcasing a strong arm and smooth delivery. Fields also offers a strong blend of athleticism to pair with his throwing ability. He often makes plays with his legs — whether converting first downs or rolling out of the pocket — as a strong, dynamic runner. If the Patriots enjoyed having a quarterback make plays with his feet, Fields could be an ideal addition.

Like Lawerence, the odds of landing the Buckeye are slim, but not impossible. If fact, ESPN’s draft analyst, Todd McShay, had Fields falling to New England at pick No. 15 in his first 2021 mock draft. After a stretch of shaky performances late this season — highlighted by low completion percentages and increased interception totals — some wondered how well Fields will transition to the pros. After a six touchdown performance in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson largely put an end to those questions, Fields will most likely be the second quarterback off the board. It would take a massive haul for New England to move up the board and select him, one that would start with multiple first- and second-round draft picks.

Zach Wilson (BYU)

Wilson took the collegiate world by storm this season, throwing 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions while leading the BYU Cougars to an 11-1 record. As Wilson impressed more and more each week, he shot up draft boards and will compete with Fields as the second quarterback selected behind Lawerence.

Fully healthy this season, Wilson made huge strides in his game. He has an explosive and natural throwing motion, as his ability to anticipate and let the ball rip on time is elite. Wilson showcased his superb arm strength throughout the season, making NFL caliber throws week-in-week-out. He is not the biggest or fastest quarterback, but just seems to have that “it” factor. And while he’s not the fastest, Wilson showcased good overall athleticism and can make plays with his legs when needed.

With many quarterback-needy teams at the top of the draft, the Patriots will certainly have to move up to get Wilson — a price that would also be high. New England’s best chance of landing a blue chip quarterback prospect is to hope teams with veteran quarterbacks (Atlanta, Detroit, Carolina) continue to build around their current players and hold off at the position for now.

Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

If one of the top four quarterbacks was to fall all the way to No. 15, it would be Trey Lance. As Lance threw 30 passes in the Bison’s lone game this season, he now has just 318 total passes attempted at the FCS level. He is clearly a gifted quarterback, but the lack of film on the red shirt sophomore could hold teams back.

When reviewing his 2019 season, Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. You read that right: zero interceptions. Lance is a strong decision maker and isn't overly cautious either, taking advantage of big play opportunities when they are available. As a dual-threat, Lance added another 1,100 yards and 14 scores on the ground last season. He would be a perfect fit to run the 2020 Patriots offense built around Cam Newton and his legs. Lance aligned under-center, as well as in both the pistol and the gun in college, showcasing his strong athleticism, toughness and the ability to make plays on the ground.

His accuracy is also very impressive, as he has the ability to drop balls over defenders in all areas of the field:

If the Patriots plan on pulling off a move for Lance, it would still likely have to come from a trade up. The package might not have to include multiple first- and second-round picks, but is would still come at the minimum expense of No. 15 and No. 47 overall in this years draft. Also, New England would certainly need to add a veteran quarterback capable of starting day one. Lance will be an eventual starter, but certainly needs time to sit and learn.

Mac Jones (Alabama)

After taking over for the injured Tua Tagovailoa for the final three games last season, Jones was the Day One starter this year for the Crimson Tide. He responded by throwing for over 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy race. Literally looking at Jones, you would never guess he’s the starting quarterback for the best team in college football, but he’s a great leader and very smart player at the position (sound familiar?). Looking at him on the field, Jones does not have the strongest arm, but has shown off his ability to throw the deep ball this season. His anticipation has also been strong this year, as well as his ability to move within the pocket.

The biggest question surrounding Jones is what he will look like outside of Alabama’s offense, where he has had the luxury of throwing to Heisman winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle this season. Jones would be at his best in a Erhardt-Perkins offensive system — a system quite familiar to the Patriots — and surrounded by top talent. Jones should certainly be available when the Patriots select at No. 15, but that would definitely be a reach. The redshirt junior should fall into the second round, but don’t be surprised if a team takes a chance in round one.

Kyle Trask (Florida)

Like Jones, Trask’s 2020 campaign paid huge dividends to his draft stock. Finishing fourth in the Heisman voting, Trask tossed 4,283 yards and 43 touchdown passes for the Gators. Trask is at his best when operating in the short passing game with his quick release, but overall has an extremely average arm. Many of Trask’s passes seem to just die out, as faulty mechanics often cause poor velocity and accuracy. The 6-foot-5 redshirt senior is strong when operating inside the pocket, but is a below average athlete that struggles when things break down.

Part of Trask’s poor mechanics could be a result of him only starting at the position for two years. He never started in high school and did not get an opportunity in college until 2019 when Felipe Franks moved on. Perhaps more experience sitting behind a veteran for a year could help resolve some of Trask’s mechanical flaws, leading to improved quarterback play. Like Jones, Trask should not be touched in the first round, but a team over-drafting him should come as no surprise.

Who do you think will be the Patriots next quarterback? Let me know on Twitter @iambrianhines or leave a comment below!