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Patriots 2021 free agency preview: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett among veteran quarterbacks available for New England

Related: Exploring every potential quarterback option for the 2021 Patriots

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have a need at the one position you don’t want to have a need at: quarterback. Ever since Tom Brady decided to take on a new challenge by leaving in free agency last March, the team is looking for his successor — one that did not appear to be on the 2020 depth chart: neither starter Cam Newton nor one of his backup options did establish themselves as long-time solutions at the most important position in the game.

Accordingly, the Patriots are in the market for a new QB. The likeliest scenario is that the team invests in one via the draft, but New England adding an experienced option through free agency certainly should be on the radar as well. You need quality depth, after all, to either help a rookie develop into a franchise quarterback or maybe even lead the offense’s fortunes for another year.

Before digging into the free agent options that might be available next month, let’s first take a closer look at who New England currently has under contract for the 2021 season at the position:

  • Jake Dolegala
  • Jarrett Stidham

Given the current status of their quarterback depth chart the Patriots should be expected to bring at least one veteran option aboard as well — either via free agency or the trade market. Heading towards the draft with only Stidham and Dolegala under contract would leave the team similarly vulnerable at the position as it was after Tom Brady’s departure last spring. We all know how that turned out.

Alongside Stidham and Dolegala, the Patriots also have two other quarterbacks scheduled to enter free agency once the market opens on March 17:

  • Brian Hoyer (UFA)
  • Cam Newton (UFA)

While Hoyer should not be expected to return based on the fact that he lost the backup quarterback spot to Jarrett Stidham after a disappointing Week 4 start in Kansas City, Newton is a candidate to be brought back as a potential bridge QB. The former league MVP struggled in his first year as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, but he did have some positive moments and also was well respected within the locker room.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at free agent quarterbacks — in case you are wondering the order is alphabetical and nothing else — New England might be interested in adding under the right conditions.

Jacoby Brissett

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 28

2020 team: Indianapolis Colts

2020 statistics: 11 games (0 starts); 2-for-8, 17 passing yards

A former third-round draft pick by the Patriots, Brissett started two games in New England during the 2016 season but was traded to Indianapolis the following year in exchange for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Since that trade, he has seen his playing time fluctuate: while Brissett started 15 games each in the 2017 and 2019 seasons, he did not see any noteworthy snaps in his other two years as a Colt. That in combination with the team’s recent acquisition of Carson Wentz makes him a likely candidate to look for a job elsewhere.

The Patriots appear to be a realistic landing spot given his history in New England as well as the fact that the team employed an offense in 2020 that should also fit Brissett’s skillset. Of course, there are some questions attached to the reunion as well: How much will it cost to bring Brissett aboard? Would he be willing to come to New England as a potential one-year rental? Is he really an upgrade over somebody like Cam Newton? If the Patriots feel confident in all of those questions, they could give their former QB another close look.

Andy Dalton

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 33

2020 team: Dallas Cowboys

2020 statistics: 11 games (9 starts); 216-for-333, 2,170 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

After selecting Joe Burrow first overall last year, the Cincinnati Bengals decided to part ways with long-time franchise quarterback Andy Dalton. It did not take long for the veteran to find a new home, though, as he joined the Cowboys on a one-year pact to back up Dak Prescott. When Dallas’ starter suffered a season-ending ankle injury, the team turned to Dalton to lead its offense. He was solid, but failed to inspire the Cowboys offense enough after losing Prescott: the team finished 6-10 while going 4-5 with Dalton as the starter.

Dalton was solid but unspectacular during his first year in Dallas, which might be enough for the Patriots to take a look at him. A bit more consistency at the quarterback position might have made a difference for the 7-9 squad last year — something it did not get from Cam Newton. Does that make Dalton an upgrade, though? Not really, because his ceiling is still lower than Newton’s even though he posted better numbers in 2020. Nonetheless, he might be a cheaper and thus more attractive option for New England.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 38

2020 team: Miami Dolphins

2020 statistics: 9 games (7 starts); 183-for-267, 2,091 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

After spending time in Buffalo, New York and, most recently, Miami, Ryan Fitzpatrick might be able to complete his tour of the AFC East in 2021. Coming off a season that saw him play some solid football but get benched in favor of first-round rookie Tua Tagovailoa, Fitzpatrick will enter the open market looking for another chance to start. He might get it in New England, even though the same outcome as last year — starting the season before eventually getting replaced — certainly appears to be on the table.

Fitzpatrick and the Patriots might be a match regardless of this potential outcome. He likely will not command much more than $5 million per year, while simultaneously providing vast experience and the leadership to mentor a young passer. Even though Newton appears to be the most realistic option out of the free agent quarterbacks above the age of 30, Fitzpatrick could be a solid addition as well if paired with a draft pick that will be groomed to take over at one point in 2021 or 2022.

Tyrod Taylor

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 32

2020 team: Los Angeles Chargers

2020 statistics: 2 games (1 start); 16-for-30, 208 passing yards

The former Buffalo starting quarterback entered the 2020 season as the Los Angeles Chargers’ top option at the position ahead of first-round rookie Justin Herbert. While Taylor did start the season opener, he was sidelined after a freak medical accident left him with a punctured lung just ahead of his team’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. Herbert took over, lived up to his draft status, and solidified himself as the Chargers’ QB of the future. Taylor, meanwhile, was relegated to backup status.

Entering the open market after having played just 14 games over the past three seasons, the 31-year-old is a borderline starting-caliber quarterback at this stage in his career. That said, the Patriots could view him in the same light the Chargers did when they signed him to a two-year, $11 million contract in 2019: as a seasoned backup capable of one day mentoring a highly drafted rookie. The plan paid off for Los Angeles — Herbert looked like the real deal in 2020 — which could prompt New England to go down this road as well.

Mitchell Trubisky

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 27

2020 team: Chicago Bears

2020 statistics: 10 games (9 starts); 199-for-297, 2,055 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

The Bears thought they would get a legitimate franchise quarterback when they traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky second overall — ahead of players such as Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson — back in 2017. Instead, they got four inconsistent seasons and head-scratching play: Trubisky has an intriguing athletic skillset and the arm strength to be a starter in the NFL, but his decision making and accuracy are simply too on-off for him to string together successful plays on a desirable level.

All it takes is one team to see him as a player worth working with, though. Could that team be the Patriots? There is a chance given that Trubisky is still young and could benefit from a change of scheme and scenery — not unlike another former first-round selection, now-Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If Bill Belichick believes that he can salvage Trubisky’s career, and the contractual situation is acceptable, he could make a move to bring him aboard as one of the few free agency targets with long-term upside.

Jameis Winston

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 27

2020 team: New Orleans Saints

2020 statistics: 5 games (0 starts); 8-for-12, 131 passing yards, 1 touchdown

Tom Brady’s predecessor in Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston joined the Saints on a one-year, $1.1 million deal last April. Serving as the team’s number three behind Drew Brees and Taysom Hill, the former first overall draft pick saw limited action: he appeared in just four regular season game before making a brief appearance in the playoffs and throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass against his former team (and the eventual world champions). That play was the highlight of Winston’s season.

A reclamation project through and through, the Patriots could see something in him: Winston can still sling the ball and will bring an intriguing combination of youth and comparatively cheap contract with him. However, his style of play is not necessarily what New England is looking for in its quarterbacks. Winston is a gunslinger, something the Patriots do not really need at the current stage in their offensive development. Nothing can be ruled out, but Winston appears to be a long shot.

Patriots outlook

As mentioned above, New England is expected to bring at least one experienced player aboard in free agency. While potential cap casualties such as Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers), Marcus Mariota (Las Vegas Raiders) or Teddy Bridgewater (Carolina Panthers) also need to be considered as targets, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots went fishing in familiar waters: either bringing back Newton on another low-cost deal, or going with Fitzpatrick or Brissett.

New England will likely not find a new franchise quarterback in free agency or via the trade market this year. The best shot the team might therefore be adding an experienced mentor to help groom a potential draft pick. In this scenario, the Patriots do have some viable targets at their disposal.